January 2016 Blog Archives
Sunday, January 31
6:15 PM Today I drove to Bedford, VA, and from there to the Peaks of Otter with the goal of climbing Flat Top Mountain, but the trail head was closed due to snow. I was a bit disappointed as the hike is rated difficult and I really wanted to get in a long climb today (4.8 miles out and back, with a healthy elevation gain of 1,873 feet). But not to worry. Appomattox Courthouse was only an hour away, so I got back into the van and before you knew it I was videotaping this historic site on a beautiful winter day.
Whether you are an avid Civil War buff like I am or just enjoy the outdoors, the trails and walkways at the Appomattox Courthouse National Historical Park are well kept, well delineated, and full of historical markers. The staff was eager to impart information not posted. My guide today had been on the job for only two weeks but already she was a walking encyclopedia. She hails from Boston and is doing a two-month internship at the park. To think that Lee and Grant met on this very spot is awe-inspiring.
Be sure to see the movie in the visitor center when you come and take in one of the interpretive talks that are offered. If you haven't visited the park yet, here's a GoPro I shot that you might enjoy.
Tomorrow it's back to the gym and then I hope to hike at least 8 miles.
8:30 AM Do you ever wonder what it would be like to climb the world's highest peaks? I do. With just a few more muscles in the right place and a few less years on the old bod, I think maybe, just maybe, I could have climbed with the best of them. Do you sometimes wonder what it would be like to be confined to a wheel chair? I do. With just a little different outcome to all my surfing wipeouts and horseback riding accidents, I could have been paralyzed for life. I thank God that I am who I am, and the only thing that matters is how I measure up to God's standards for Dave Black. In the end, however, I know I will never be able to comprehend God's sovereignty and kindness. To know that there are no "accidents" in my life gives me a great measure of peace. Two years after Becky's death, I believe with greater depth and joy than I ever did before. I think I'm finally at peace with myself. Suffering, I remind myself, is the destiny of every human being. But pain and loss never have the final say. So today I will go about my Father's business. I will travel to a place where I will encounter God in a very special way. I will stand in awe at His beauty, and I will cry and mourn because I know that He has mourned too. When I reach the mountain's summit, I will be reminded that I am a creature made of dust, and I will yearn for final victory, the victory Jesus won for us in His death and resurrection. Jesus, my Savior, created the mountain I will stand upon. Indeed, He created the very rock out of which His grave was hewn -- a grave that could not hold Him, so perfect was His earthly life, so sacrificial His death. A woman once asked Him, "Where can God be found?" It is a vital question. He did not duck the question when He replied, "You will not have to go to any 'holy place" to have a divine encounter with God." In Jesus' time, that was a radical teaching. What? No temple? No mosque? No shrine? No church? I attended a church in Raleigh a few weeks ago where people bowed before entering the building, as though God lived there. They would probably be horrified to know that this weekend I will be worshiping God on a mountaintop. How can that be true worship? Because God is there. True worship is impossible without Jesus. Jesus makes true worship possible because He alone reveals God to us. The church building I attend today for "worship" will not exhaust my worship experience this weekend. At best, it will supplement it. The "worship leader" in the church building will have nothing on the birds and the deer. This is why we live and move and have our being: for the love of Jesus, for the love of others, for the love of the lost, and for the pleasure of our Creator and our Redeemer and our Soon-Returning Lord. I just thank God that each one of us stands equal before Him. And soon and very soon we will all be asked to give an account for our lives. The only thing that will matter when that Day comes is how we have measured up to His standards for our lives.
Saturday, January 30
7:45 PM Taught my two sessions on campus today and gave away copies of Will You Join the Cause of Global Missions? After one of our sessions these students insisted on having their mug shots taken with yours truly. What a great group of young missionaries.
Then it was back to my office where I was able to get caught up on some school work. Right now I'm cooking chicken and rice for supper and getting ready to relax with my new book about the 1996 Everest Disaster.
A couple of weeks ago I read Jon Krakauer's account of the same events on Everest. I knew he had criticized Anatoli Boukreev's decision to summit without supplementary oxygen and for descending ahead of the other members of his group, so I just had to read Boukreev's own account of the disaster. Thus far the book has all the drama of an ancient Greek tragedy. If you've seen the movie Everest, you will recall that Boukreev was the lead climbing guide for Scott Fischer's Mountain Madness expedition. He would later go on to rescue three climbers who had been stranded above 8,000 meters. As I said, the main question involves Boukreev's lack of supplemental oxygen. As a guide who was responsible for assisting other climbers, it seemed unwise to Krakauer (and others) that Fischer would have given Boukreev such discretion. In any case, I look forward to finishing this book tonight so that I go on to my next Everest book by Beck Weathers called Left for Dead. (Beck lost half of his right arm in the disaster.) Beck's part is played by John Brolin in the movie. Beck, by his own admission, felt the disaster was a mixed blessing.
That is such a relief to hear. As is so often the case with God, when we start to think honestly about our own loss, we find ourselves exploring a new road of meaning that opens up before us. This was true of Beck after the loss of his arm. This was true of me after the loss of Becky. It is how we respond to loss that matters. Pure and simple.
As for me ... what do I get out of climbing? Do I really even know? Let's see.... I climb because I enjoy working hard to reach a goal. I climb because I love trying to create a personal best (PB) in terms of physical and mental accomplishment. Conquering my inner fears is, I'm sure, a bit part of it as well. Then you have to add in the fact that mountaineering is played out in some of the most beautiful places in the world. As a teenager I rode big waves in Hawaii. Later, I rode cross country on my hot-blooded steeds. Now my interests have changed again. I will admit that I'm not interested in taking foolish risks. But by the same token, I'm not averse to engaging in activities that are considered to be dangerous. But I will only go so far. Deep down inside, I think I'm addicted to safety more than I am to foolish risks. I hope I'm wise enough not to be reckless and brave enough to take on reasonable risks. If we humans were completely risk-averse, we'd never make a friend. If we were completely risk-averse, we'd never go into business or fall in love. Life is a series of calculated risks. It doesn't have any guarantees. A major reason why I'm climbing the Alps this year is because I probably won't be able to climb them in another 5 or 10 years.
Walking, running, and hiking have become a permanent part of my life. Just as I bathe every day and pray every day and brush my teeth every day, so I get outdoors every day. "It is not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves," wrote Edmund Hillary. Healthy physical exercise is extremely satisfying to me. Getting outdoors allows me to slow down and disconnect. Climbing reminds me that I can do even more important things with my life if I really try. Climbing is about moving upward. When you summit a mountain you're treated to an eagle-eye's view of the world. It increases your physical and mental toughness. It offers you a way to confront your basic fears. I find hiking and climbing an amazing relief from the daily stress of life. But you have to experience it yourself to understand yourself. Vicarious climbing doesn't cut it. The higher I climb, the smaller I am. My problems, my ego, become insignificant when compared to the world all around me.
So there you have it. There is faith, fire, and passion in my eyes, all partly due to the great outdoors. Have you discovered the joy of hiking yet? Get outdoors tomorrow, friend. You will love it.
8:14 AM In Greek 2 class this past week we talked about the Lord's Supper because I had included the Greek adverb "worthily" (and its antonym) in our vocabulary for the day. (Isn't it so unlike me to go on rabbit trials in class?) I stressed that there's a world of difference between an adjective ("unworthy") and an adverb ("unworthily"). You will recall that the Corinthian church was behaving rather badly when they came together to share the bread and the cup. Paul quotes Jesus' own words after Jesus had broken the bread: "This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of Me." Paul's point is that we come to the table, not to remember our sins, but to remember our Savior. And yet how many of us can attest to being asked whether or not we are "worthy" to partake of the elements that day? We are requested to have a time of introspection to see whether or not we feel worthy enough to participate in the Lord's Supper. Boy are we good at complicating the ways of Jesus. I have nothing at all against a time of introspection, or a time of confession, but that need not be left for the Lord's Supper. In fact, Jesus never invited anyone to His table. His words are a command in the imperative mood: "Do this in remembrance of me." As I said, we do not come to the table to remember our sins but our Savior. This focus, unfortunately, is often blurred. Remembrance is at the heart any true observance of the Lord's Supper. Through the bread and the cup we participate in Christ. So the service is a communion as well as a commemoration. Our common participation in the meal is a sign of our fellowship and unity. Indeed, the earliest Christians took the bread and the cup as part of a communal meal. As I argued in my book Seven Marks of a New Testament Church, there is much to be gained by this practice. Fellowship is a vitally important aspect of the Lord's Supper. Rather than the pulpit being the center of attention, the elements (Christ and His death!) are. As we partake with others, we are united with Christ as one body. That's why there is only one table of the Lord. There's not one table for the rich and another for the poor; one for slaves and another for the free; one for Jewish Christians and another for Gentile Christians; one for the educated and another for the uneducated; one for men and another for women; one for Calvinists and another for Arminians; one for clergy and another for laity; one for homeschool families and another for families whose children attend public school. The entire focus is on Christ, on whom we feast together. That's why I called my chapter on the Lord's Supper "Christ-Centered Gatherings." It is Christ we celebrate! "This is our Servant-King-Savior. This is our Senior Pastor. And now He calls upon us to follow Him. Yes, we will follow You, King Jesus!" The closer our relationship with our Head, the better we will be able to spur one another on in the Christian life. We should go to every church gathering not just thinking, "What can I get out of it?" or even "What can I contribute to it?" but "How can I acknowledge what Jesus has done for me?" One way to do this is by lifting Him up and giving Him central place every single time we gather, as He commanded us to do. Jesus never commanded His followers to observe Christmas. He never told us to celebrate Easter. He said, "Keep on doing this in remembrance of Me." Unless the entire church has been directed back in remembrance of the cross, no true Lord's Supper has taken place.
For more, please read Howard Marshall's classic essay Some Considerations Regarding the Lord's Supper Today. I am fully convinced that God is big enough and good enough to lead us back into a biblical observation of His Supper.
Friday, January 29
6:44 PM How to spoil your dogs.
4:44 PM I'm developing my plan to train for my trip to the Alps this July. I'm building into the plan "peaks" and "valleys" as well as times when I just go on maintenance for a while. Right now the goal I'm working toward is twofold: stamina and strength, i.e., the ability to move effectively and efficiently, my balance, my coordination, and my energy level. I have already seen results. I have practically doubled the strength in my legs in the past 6 months. I've begun alternating easy and hard days. Having just spent the past two days working on my cardio and endurance by doing two back-to-back 10Ks, it's now time to climb a mountain again so that I can exercise my whole body and build lower-back strength and core stabilization. You have to have a solid core so that you can move with safety and power. I also need to work more consistently on form and correct posture when exercising. At my age, the margin for error is narrower, and the cost for doing things the wrong way has gone up. If you're like me, then pretty soon exercise becomes one of the sweetest times in your day. Working hard produces a terrific feeling (an "aerobic high"). It's gotten to the point where my body actually craves the daily chemistry of exercise, whether the workout is slow, long, steady, or intense. There is an "aura" period that lasts for hours afterwards. You feel more, not less, energized. Above all, you realize that, through regular exercise, you can ward off the illnesses we are prone to get as we age. Heart attacks, strokes, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, arthritis, obesity -- high end fitness can dramatically reduce these threats and slow the muscle loss of ageing. Many of us have forgotten how joyful it is to truly move. Guess what? You're never too old (or too far out of shape) to start exercising again. If you've fallen into the undisciplined habit of feeding your appetite and not your hunger, even that can change. But the price for freedom is discipline. That is the key to a great third act.
Try it. You'll see!
12:08 PM Just completed my second 10K (6.2 miles) in as many days. Let's see ... what's next on my schedule?
8:15 AM I'm taking a scheduled break from writing. (Okay, okay, so I didn't really schedule in this break. I'm really a pretty spontaneous guy.) Anyhow, I've got a couple of thoughts roaming around in my brain right now -- not that there's anything earth-shattering about them. First of all, I argued in our LXX class this week that if anyone should be interested in linguistics -- the art and science of how language works -- it should be students of the Bible, and especially students of the biblical languages. Not all would agree, of course. To some, linguistics remains a "secular" science, one that can hardly be "evangelicalized." Not surprisingly, I've been taken to task for suggesting that biblical scholars have much to gain from the science of linguistics. But when I study Paul, I do not see him despising or excluding the world of creation from his theology. A dualistic tension between faith in God and the scientific perception of the nature of creation has no place in his thinking. God was responsible for creating heaven and earth, and He made all things good (Gen 1:31). Far from being a threat to modern exegesis, I believe the facts show that the immense problems facing modern exegetes are sometimes best resolved when they are treated from a linguistic point of view. The discourse structure/theme of Philippians is a case in point (see my Novum Testamentum essay called The Discourse Structure of Philippians: A Study in Textlinguistics). Hence Paul's juxtaposition of worldly and divine wisdom in 1 Cor. 1:18-2:16 need not be construed as a contrast between faith and reason. What Paul is fighting against in this passage is not science per se but man-made religion and hubris. Translated into modern diction, though all human endeavors can clearly become futile and hostile to the honor of God, they are not necessarily evil. I'd like to think that my students would be open to learning a thing or two from modern linguistic science. If you would like to as well, there are a number of places where you can start. My own Linguistics for Students of New Testament Greek will give you a basic overview of the field, while Logos has bundled numerous resources that will help you dig a bit deeper (Studies in New Testament Greek). If you take me for Greek 3, we take a linguistic approach to exegesis and work though some of the major works in the field. Steve Runge's On eclecticism in linguistics is also very helpful. Listen, some trends in biblical studies, like some fashion trends, are questionable. I suspect that you, like me, are cautious about new approaches to anything. Still, there's some good work being done today by New Testament scholars in the field of linguistics, and I'm fairly sure you can benefit from being exposed to it.
Alright, now let's talk about the letter to the editor that's been making the rounds on the 'net. You can read about it here. The letter gives a very realistic glimpse into a slice of America many people are perhaps unfamiliar with. The only question I would ask is, Do we see the face of Jesus in the homeless and refugee population (Matt. 25:34-36)? Few things capture the spirit of Christ better than the way we welcome the stranger into our midst. After all, God is a God who is beautiful not because He's cutesy and looks like Santa Claus. He's beautiful because He adopts into His family His enemies and then lovingly transforms them from the inside out. Personally, I think I've had enough of cries for vengeance/caution/national security to last me for at least a couple of million years. Let's try taking the teachings of Jesus seriously and loving our enemies and then watch what God can do. If you share this vision of the kingdom, will you join me in praying for the Syrian refugees who come to our country, praying that God will use us Christians to follow the example of Jesus and be willing even to give our lives for the sake of the gospel? Yes, I know that this model of transformation I'm calling for doesn't exactly fit the politically-oriented paradigm of modern social conservatism. But if significant numbers of Christians were to engage in this kind of sacrificial service, I believe that the church could have a transforming impact on our culture that social activists could only dream of having.
Anyway ... like I said, I'm taking a break from writing and my "schedule" says I need to get back to it. Trying to write a book about my life is not an easy thing, so keep me covered, will you?
And start studying linguistics!
7:02 AM Good morning to you! Just checked my to-do list for the day. I make a new list every morning. (Goodness, I even schedule in my scheduling.) Nobody really knows why people enjoy writing to-do lists. For me, list-making is an aid both in remembering what I want to remember and as a means of prioritizing. Then there's the joy of crossing off things in my list.
List-writing is a daily ritual for me. I like to think that it's a sign that, at my age, I'm still capable of organizing myself. "I still have control over my world." Of course, I don't really have that kind of control. Deep down inside I rebel against my performance-based persona. "Do I really need to be so routinized?" To boil it down, I write lists (of all kinds) because that's just the way my personality is hard-wired. "Why do I make lists?" is like asking "Why do I breathe?" So today I need to work on my MITs (Most Important Tasks) before working on anything else. Near the top of the list is "unplug." A huge time-waster in my life is connectivity. As I exercise outdoors today, I'll turn everything off (except for my Map My Run app). Before you pooh-pooh this idea, try it. And please, be courteous to those you're talking with. Turn off your phone if you know it will interrupt a conversation you're having. I had lunch with someone recently who kept checking his messages and emails during the meal. I didn't say anything but I should have. After all, I deserved their undivided attention! (Lol.)
So ... what's on my list for today?
Wouldn't you like to know!
Thursday, January 28
4:04 PM Trained hard today.
Then I had lunch with Nate and Nolan. Three generations.
I know you love family pix. You're welcome.
8:10 AM Just a word of appreciation to Philip Hunt, President of Central Africa Baptist College & Seminary in Zambia, for sending me a copy of his school's new journal. He asked me to help get the word out and I'm only too happy to do so. He also informs me that when the next issue of the journal is released in July of 2016, digital copies of volume 1 will be available for free download on their website. How cool is that?
I've already read my copy of volume 1 and I can tell you, I'm pleased and impressed. Nixon Obunga, a church planter in Zambia, writes an essay called "Developing a Biblical Philosophy of Ministry." Topics include "Separation, Unity, Love, and Holiness," "Worldviews," "Friendship Evangelism," "Compassionate Ministry," Servant Leadership," "Shared Leadership," "People before Programs," and "A Blend of Structured and Informal Training." In the latter section the author writes:
Then he adds:
His point is that the local church in general bears a heavy burden in terms of education and training. That's one reason I'm so excited about the Greek class that will begin next month in Windward Oahu as part of a local church ministry. Classes will meet once a week in the evening so that as many bi-vocational pastors as possible can attend. This is a church that gets it, folks. They will use my grammar and DVDs, and in April I get to make a "cameo" appearance when I visit Oahu. This is way bigger than Greek, though. It's about a local church getting serious about biblical education. It's about becoming equipped to lead and teach. It's about training a new generation of elders in the Islands who have the tools necessary to dig and dig deep. So thanks again to Brother Hunt and heartiest congratulations on the launch of your new journal. Thank you most of all, Jesus, for being amazing and brilliant and compassionate and astonishing and perfect and our Senior Pastor. Man, I wish Your church could learn how to give You the place of preeminence in all things (Col. 1:18). But we're learning how to do this, step by step. Because You're teaching us. Thank you!
7:32 AM When was the last time you changed your mind about something? I mean something important? For me that was on Tuesday. I had just cracked open the latest issue of Filologia Neotestamentaria. In it was an essay called "The passivum divinum: The Rise and Future Fall of an Imaginary Linguistic Phenomenon." Authors Smit and Rennson argue that the so-called "divine passive" construction in Greek exists only as an urban myth. Agentless passives with God as their implied agent are due, not to a desire to avoid pronouncing the Divine Name, but rather to other motives (e.g., the agent is already clearly implied in the context; the agent is not in focus but instead the subject is, etc.). Besides being obviously impressed by the authors' arguments, I was a bit perturbed to think that I had been teaching the "divine passive" for years. Get this wrong, and you're probably going to be just as guilty of eisegesis as this preacher who insists that non-tithers have opened themselves up to demons. My oh my! So keep on thinking, dear reader -- and remember that Jesus came to lift every noose from your neck, both the ones you put there and the ones others put there. (See David Croteau's excellent book, Tithing After the Cross -- which one Amazon reviewer calls "... a Biblical but not dogmatic approach to a complicated topic that was treated with great care and biblical support." Go David!)
People, we need each other. We need iron sharpening iron. So once again, I stand corrected, and I'm glad for that. Being open to correction helps us to run our races well and to practice the grace-filled living we were created for. Amen?
6:52 AM Just added to our Greek Portal: Learn Biblical Greek by Robert Plummer. Rob's videos are based on my beginning grammar, Learn to Read New Testament Greek. These are some seriously good vids. I want to thank Rob for making them available online.
6:32 AM It has taken me some 40 years to derive my thinking about vocation. It was a Herculean task, but I managed it. (Please be impressed.) I mention it this morning because two words keep popping into my brain: untapped potential. I'm concerned especially about you young whippersnappers. You often seem so, well, unsettled. You're unsure of who you are, of your calling in life, of your God-given vocation. I run across our graduates all the time who seem to be floundering. They keep making the same vocational decisions -- and keep shooting themselves in the foot in the process. This post is for you.
1 Cor. 12:4-6 played a significant role in my life when I was in seminary.
Here Paul says that the Spirit grants to all the members of the body spiritual gifts (charismata). The Son, on the other hand, assigns ministries or places of service (diakonioi) to every gifted member. These are opportunities to exercise one's spiritual gifts in ways that edify other believers. (Remember, the Spirit does not give us gifts so that we might simply boast of or brag about them. He desires us to serve and use those gifts as the Lord directs us and in the place of His appointment.) Finally, Paul says that God Himself grants us the energemata – the abilities – to use our spiritual gifts in an effective way.
Think of your life as a funnel. At the top is the matter of gifting. What are your strengths? What interests you the most? What are you "good" at? Paul says that our gifting comes from the Holy Spirit. You don't ask the Spirit for your gift; you simply discover it and then develop it. This is the matter of what. Don't try to be a thumb in the body if you are an ear!
Secondly, the middle of the funnel is the matter of where. In what place of ministry am I to exercise my God-given abilities? Where shall I serve Him and others? Paul says that the place of our ministry is up to the Lord. Jesus Himself will appoint us to a place of ministry. Let's say, for example, that your gift is teaching. The only thing you want to do with your life is teach. But where? You can teach in a public school or a private school. You can teach in primary school or graduate school. You can teach in a secular school or in a religious school. You can teach in a Bible college or in a seminary. How to know? Well, in one sense, you don't have to bother trying to figure it out. The Lord knows exactly where He wants to "put" you. He knows the best showcase for your gifts. And He will open whatever door needs opening so that you can serve Him in that place.
Finally, at the end of the funnel is the matter of why. What do I hope to accomplish by exercising my spiritual gift in the place of the Lord's appointment? Again, Paul is clear. This matter has already been arranged by God. He is the one who "works all things in all people." Therefore we can leave the results to Him. We simply allow Him to produce in us those good works that He has already foreordained that "we should walk in them" (Eph. 2:10).
So there are three steps in this process: discovering our gifts, discovering the place where we can best exercise those gifts, and discovering what God wants to accomplish though us as we exercise those gifts in the place of the Lord's appointment. (I realize that's wordy.)
Once I figured out what God had created me to be (a teacher), the next question was where? Well, the Lord opened the door for me to teach Greek at Biola University while I was taking classes at Talbot School of Theology on the same campus. The Lord made it clear to me that my field of teaching was to be at either the college level or the seminary level. Subsequent to that revelation, it was then a matter of acquiring a doctorate (which was and still is a prerequisite for teaching at this level). As for the results, I have watched in amazement as God enabled me to teach and write and publish. Yes, I set personal publishing goals (one book every five years and one journal article every year), but I never sweated about any of this. I just taught and wrote and published as God enabled and led and provided and opened doors. You know, when you truly come to grips with Paul's teaching here (i.e., that the results of our ministries are up to God), it is so liberating. You are free from ever having to compare yourself with anyone else. You will never be jealous that another New Testament scholar has, say, written more books than you have. There's no need for that. The energemata are all up to God, who works everything in everyone -- and therefore gets all the glory for anything we may have accomplished.
My point is this, young person. If you feel that God is calling you into full-time college or seminary teaching in the field of biblical studies, I say go for it. Don't sweat the job market. I know this may sound simplistic, but I really believe it. If this is God's will for your life, He will open the door and produce the results. Why, then, worry about it? I can tell you example after example of my own doctoral students being placed in teaching positions, some immediately upon graduation. This is a God thing. But that's Paul's point!
Please don't waste your life doing something God never created you to do. "Untapped potential" is not the legacy you want. Discover your gift and allow the Lord to lead you to the place of His appointment, and then stand back and watch God do some pretty remarkable things in and through your life and ministry. Find God's will for your life and you will live happier, love better, laugh louder, and stand taller. "Trust and obey, for there's no other way, to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey."
Wednesday, January 27
5:52 PM I have now taught my three classes and I'm riding high. I love what I do. Empowering students to think for themselves is wonderful work. I think most of them have developed a fairly sensitive skubala meter when it comes to reading and listening to us so-called experts. I think this is a very good thing. The truth is that meaningful change in our lives and our churches is possible. Change can be risky, of course -- and very uncomfortable. Cultivating authenticity is a process that can be scary. But that's what wholehearted living is all about. Letting go of our self-deceptions. Letting go of what other people might think about us. It's the only way to truly live. In the classroom I feel brave, afraid ... and very much alive. "Dance like no one is watching," wrote Mark Twain. "Sing like no one is listening. Love like you've never been hurt and live like it's heaven on earth." Nothing inspires me quite as much as when my students "get it." It takes lots of guts to study Greek. You risk feeling very vulnerable. But what a great way to live. Want to be an inspiration to others? Try something that scares you or something you've always dreamt about doing. The only unique contribution you will ever make in this world will be birthed by your creativity. "I'm just going to do it. I don't care anymore what others think." Follow your intuition. Go with your guts. I've spent almost a year focusing on the intersection of faith and fitness. Never in a million years did I ever think I would be running in races or climbing mountains. Though intuition is not independent of the thinking process, it goes much deeper than that. The great goal in life, I modestly suggest, is to find who God made you to be and then live that out fully. God's potential for your life should inspire you to reach for big goals, and if you work up a sweat in the process, so much the better. Nothing inspires me more than watching people who have decided to live an authentic life, who have taken off their game face, who are real and imperfect, and who refuse to run around spackling in all the cracks. I'm inspired by everyone who is courageous enough to step out of their comfort zone and try something new. If authenticity is your goal, you will never regret it. If your goal is being liked, forget it. If you're like me, you struggle to be authentic and brave. We're so used to trying to be everything to everyone that we have little time to be what God made us to be. God wants us out of the closet. He wants the truth to set us free. He knows when we're just pretending to be real, pretending to serve others, pretending that we enjoy our work, pretending to care. He sees our hearts. He's looking for a gutsy faith that is more than skin deep. If it's mediocrity you're seeking, there's plenty of that to be had these days. I say: Thumb your nose at the skeptics. Be yourself -- the self that God made you to be. Stop being who you're "supposed to be" and start being you. Own your story. Stop living life vicariously through others. Stop allowing perfectionism to sabotage your efforts. Forty years ago I felt totally exposed when I entered the classroom for the first time. Today the same gremlins that told me "You'll never be a good teacher" are still with me. But the truth is, you have to ignore them. Forty years ago I decided that I would let go of what the world said I should be and just be myself. Each day my vocation as a teacher has become an experiment in how I can live out my faith in very ordinary, everyday ways. I chuckle whenever I think about how God took perhaps the worst high school student in history and made him into a Greek teacher. I get giddy with joy whenever I think about how God has given each and every one of us a very special set of abilities and capabilities, and when we try to be like others we are like a dog that tries to fly. People, relax. Get comfortable with your own style. Learn to enjoy your own special contribution to this world. Practice being still and quiet. Speaking personally, I'm never more clutter-free emotionally than when I'm walking alone in God's marvelous creation. You need to find a quiet place that works for you. Whatever it takes, find a place where you can hear God's voice as He speaks to you through His Spirit and through His word. I've come to discover that the physical and the spiritual are not at odds with each other. Neither are faith and reason natural enemies. I believe that a joyful life is a life where body, soul, mind, and spirit work in harmony to pursue God's kingdom values. We just have to find the courage to live life with our entire being.
How we live our years is largely under our control. Aging need not involve decaying. The amazing news is that we can reverse the decaying process by doing physical exercise a measly 40 minutes a day, 6 days a week. And doing that is more fun than you might think. Whenever you can, go outdoors. Bike, hike, run, walk, row, climb, swim, paddle. Look around and soak up the beauty. It can be done, no matter how old (or young) you are. Then, with every ounce of God-given strength you have, pour yourself into the work God designed for you to do. For me, that means the classroom. What an honor it is to teach. Being a Christian is an acceptance of the fact that we are not our own. Christ has given us a new purpose, new values, and a new reason for living. When you realize that He loves you that much, you begin to feel His pleasure ... and begin loving others in the same way because you understand that God loves others as much as He loves you.
With that in mind, try an experiment. See what happens when you stop just telling people to live with passion and start showing them. You might be surprised the difference this makes.
P.S. A few pix from my time on campus.
1) These tomes awaited me when I returned to my office after the break.
2) Our quad's kitchen now boasts a new sign.
I love the use of "themselves" to refer to a singular subject ("everyone"). This practice goes all the way back to Middle English. If someone objects to this usage today, they simply don't know what they're talking about.
3) Our discussion of the history of the LXX in our doctoral seminar this morning.
The class is off to a great start.
4) Had lunch with one of our doctoral students today. Tlaquepaque in Wake Forest has the best chili rellenos. Bar none.
Tuesday, January 26
7:34 AM Please join us this Friday and Saturday if you can for our annual Go Conference on campus. Details here. I'll have the honor of speaking about global missions in one of the breakout sessions.
7:24 AM This was my view at 7:00 this morning.
Today promises some significant warming (and thawing), but if I'm going anywhere today I'll be shoveling snow in the driveway for sure as soon as it warms up. Wherever you go and whatever you do today:
Pamper yourself. Take a walk in the snow. Guzzle a cup of coffee. Make faces in the mirror. Take time to be silent.
Accept yourself. I know I will never be a good plumber or a great climber. But I'm okay with that. I'm happy to be me.
Protect yourself. Don't drive if the roads are hazardous. Wear gloves in the snow. Stay away from people with colds. Get some exercise. East fresh food.
Love yourself. "The law code -- don't sleep with another person's spouse, don't take someone's life, don't take what isn't yours, don't always be wanting what you don't have, and any other 'don't' you can think of -- finally adds up to this: Love other people as well as you do yourself" (Rom. 13:9, The Message).
Monday, January 25
3:40 PM If one of the marks of a Christian is supposed to be joy, you gotta wonder what went wrong. We get a little bit of snow and everyone thinks Snowmaggedon has arrived. Okay, so I can't get my car down the driveway. Ok, so it's cold outside. Ok, I wish it were 75 degrees and sunny. But that doesn't mean I've got to give up smiling and laughing -- and walking. You're looking at one happy man.
A couple of hours ago my legs said to my brain, "Brain, we're tired of just sitting here. Can you please take us out for a walk?" I guess you could say their enthusiasm was infectious. My brain gladly acquiesced, and off we went on a 5K jaunt through the 'hood.
Folks, Christianity ain't for deadheads. Jesus liked to party and He liked kids and He liked fun. For crying out loud, it was for doing these things that He got the most flack from the good old Pharisees. For the Christian, joy is serious business. Yes, life is tough. But Christ knows that. That's why He came to our planet. He wants us to experience life in all its fullness -- even when we're snowed in (or worse).
Now that my legs' craving has been satisfied, my body is happy again. And that makes me very happy.
What a great life.
11:26 AM Do not click on this page unless you want to come with me to the Alps this summer.
11:22 AM This just in at ABC 11:
See how health conscious we are in the South?
10:08 AM My next big hike will be Mount Mitchell in western North Carolina. At 6,683 feet, it's the highest peak east of the Mississippi. You can drive to the top but I hope to climb it. It will have to wait, though. Mount Mitchell just had a record 66 inches of snow.
7:02 AM This post is a shameless defense of singleness. The discipline of celibacy is changing my life. It's a very serious undertaking but it has its benefits and rewards. These thoughts came to my tired mind as, late last night, I was reading Michael Green's terrific book To Corinth with Love. The subtitle is "Paul's Message to the Troubled Church at Corinth and Its Relevance to Christians Today." Green, like the Bible, is always relevant. Here's what he says in chapter 12 about "The Unmarried Life."
I am a pilgrim on this earth, and this truth radically affects my attitude toward marriage. The time has been "shortened" writes Paul in 1 Cor. 7. The expectation of Christ's return should cause us to be detached from this world system, whether we are married or not. "Those who have wives should live as though they have none." Life with God at its core is about giving your life up for something bigger and better. It's about saying at every step that God has a good plan for my life and He knows better than I do what I need. If you are single (as I am), I can't say what is the right or wrong thing for you to do. But I do know that God always honors an obedient faith. He too walked the path of loneliness and singleness. And it is He who heals the broken in spirit and binds up our wounds. Men and women are sometimes surprised to discover that, after they get married, they are still lonely. That's because even the most intimate of human relationships can't fulfill the deepest longings of our hearts. So be realistic and reasonable in your expectations. And do try and be content, regardless of your married state. Why am I single? Why am I widowed? Is it for nothing? Or is it for something? Either way, we are God's. "I am God's. I am God's." I keep saying it to myself. It sounds risky and too good to be true. It even sounds selfish. But it's the truth.
"Widowerhood" is becoming less and less a concept and more and more the actual way I live. Praise be to God.
6:32 AM So it's Peyton versus Cam. You gotta love it.
Is age finally catching up with Peyton? Brett Favre played until he was in his 40s, and Manning is 39. But he's already an old man by NFL standards (the average career for an NFL quarterback is 4.5 years). I don't know about you, but I'm rooting for the old dude. God bless the old guys who beat the odds. Just don't get hurt, bro. And remember: Father Time is undefeated. Every one of us has an expiration date. When you retire, go out strong. Head high.
Now raise your hand if you want the Broncos to win.
Sunday, January 24
5:32 PM Has anyone hiked in or around Zermatt? I plan on spending a week there in July and I'm looking for a nice day-hike on Day 4 of my trip. Here's my itinerary:
Day 1: Take the train from Zermatt to the train station at Rotenboden. Hike to the Gornergletcher (Gorner Glacier) on the Monte Rosa trail. Take the train back to Zermatt.
Day 2: Take the lift to Klein Matterhorn and climb the Breithorn. Return to Zermatt.
Day 3: Drive to Saas Fee and take the lift to Mittelallalin and then climb the Allalinhorn. Overnight in Zermatt.
Day 4: Rest day (and a possible local hike).
Day 5: Take the tram to Unterrothorn and then descend to the Oberrothorn trail eventually ending at Fluhalp. From Fluhalp return to Zermatt via the Stellisee.
Day 6: Take the lift to Schwarzsee and then hike to the Hörnlihütte on the Matterhorn. Stay overnight on the mountain.
Day 7: Climb the Matterhorn (as high as I feel comfortable going).
I am really excited to be getting back to the Alps. Car-free Zermatt alone has over 250 miles of walking trails and 150 miles of pistes for skiing and snowboarding. I can't wait to hike the Gornergletcher, the second longest glacier in the Alps.
My first 4,000 meter peak will be the Breithorn at 4,164 meters (13,661 feet).
The Breithorn is great for a novice climber like me -- or so I am told -- and is considered the easiest of the 4,000-meter peaks in the Alps. This is partly because you can take the cable car from Zermatt to the mountain station at 3,820 meters (12,700 feet). The thought of actually climbing to the top of a major mountain in the Alps appeals to my sense of adventure no end. It's a relatively mild slope but you are climbing up ice and snow the whole way so you'll need crampons for your mountaineering boots. You don't want to do this climb without a certified mountain guide, that's for sure!
The Allalinhorn, which I hope to climb on Day 3, is 4,027 meters (13,212 feet) and also has the reputation of being one of the easiest 4000-meter peaks in the Alps when climbed by the standard route.
On Day 5 we'll hike to the Stellisee which boasts drop-dead views of the Matterhorn.
Then on Days 6-7 it's on to the Matterhorn where we'll spend the night at 10,000 feet at a mountain cabin called the Hörnlihütte before doing some rock scrambling the next day along the upward slopes of this (in)famous mountain.
Don't worry, I have NO intention of summiting -- I may be dumb, folks, but I'm not stupid. Since I have no experience of this kind of hiking, I've hired a full-time professional mountain guide. His name is Walter Rossini and he's posted several videos of his guided climbs to YouTube in case you're interested. Here's one showing the ascent of the Jungfrau.
Walter hails from Argentina but now lives in Austria with his Austrian wife and their small son. He is fluent in Spanish, French, Italian, German, and English. He didn't have to tell me this but it goes without saying that you can never underestimate how dangerous the mountains can be and how quickly conditions can change. Thankfully, the ascents I'm attempting are pretty basic climbs. Moreover, for the most part I'm following the mountaineer's famous dictum: "Climb high, sleep low." As far as training is considered, if you're in good shape I'm told the climbs aren't too strenuous. Obviously I need to continue and even ramp up my basic training and climb lots of peaks between now and July. For the altitude, there is very little I can do since there are no mountains close to home that offer any significant elevation. I'm told that altitude affects every person differently, so I won't really know how I acclimatize until I get there. If Walter turns me around, I'm fine with hiking smaller mountains or hillsides even. Even if I don't get altitude sickness, I'm sure I'll "feel the altitude."
So there you have it. Isn't God good? My climbing dates are July 10-16, though I'll stay a few extra days in Zermatt before and after my climbs. Zermatt has been at the top of mountain destinations I've always wanted to visit. It's a little out of the way so what better reason to spend a few days there and take some daily guided climbs. Just thinking about climbing to the Hörnlihütte on the Matterhorn takes my breath away. Above the hut it's very steep and for masochists only! The sport of mountaineering largely originated in the Alps and (not surprisingly) is immensely popular there. Think of the Rockies near Denver or the Cascades in the Pacific Northwest. Thanks to the inability of us Baby Boomers to accept our limitations, the adventure industry is booming. Hey, sure beats sitting on the front porch watching the goats graze. Or does it? I'll do both if I can!
You know, I haven't been working out all that long, but I feel healthier and more energetic today than when I was 30. As a writer, I also know that there are enormous cognitive benefits to exercise as well. Movement seems to be the key to so many things in life. At any rate, I'm thoroughly enjoying my "Second Adulthood" (as Gail Sheehy calls it). I really feel sorry for you younger guys and gals. Studies have shown that happiness goes down during the mid-20s to late 50s, probably because of the stress of raising children, paying off the mortgage, and establishing one's career. So you see, getting old isn't all that bad after all. The biggest grin is still ahead. :-)
Vamos a la cumbre!
3:55 PM More pix. Glad to see that VDOT got the road plowed.
11:45 AM Can you pronounce these place names as native speakers do?
For the answers, go here.
P.S. I have yet to meet anyone who could correctly pronounce both Ayn Rand and Gresham Machen.
10:10 AM It boggles the mind. A thrice-married billionaire who has never sought forgiveness has 42 percent of the evangelical vote. (Cruz gets only 25 percent.) "One of the dangers of having a lot of money," wrote C. S. Lewis, "is that you may be quite satisfied with the kinds of happiness money can give and so fail to realize your need for God. If everything seems to come simply by signing checks, you may forget that you are at every moment totally dependent on God." John Wesley put it this way: "Make all you can, save all you can, give all you can."
You can't serve both God and money. This is the challenge we each must face individually. Am I really free from the love of money? Am I really the giver the Lord wants me to be? Dave, release your grip on money now. Allow God enough elbow room to do His work in your life. Don't just act like a Christian. Lord, just for today help me to live out my faith in everyday, ordinary, tangible ways and trust You in very extraordinary ways. Amen.
9:46 AM LXX class: We get to read Jonah (adapted)!
8:26 AM I think I'm becoming a Christian mystic. Everything in life has become a delightful mystery to me. All of the surprising twists keep me moving and dancing. If this is the hardest season of my life (and it is), then it's also a special time in my life, a time to offer to God an uncomplicated soul and watch Him turn it from ashes into light. I'm happier today in a way that I've never experienced happiness before. The gift of pain has allowed me to take tiny steps forward, and gradually I'm becoming the man I'm meant to be. As I walk and hike and climb, I feel the full beauty and power of prayer -- not prayer as mere petition but prayer as communion with my Creator and Savior God. I've tossed the clichés so entrenched in my evangelical subculture. I gag at Christian superstardom. I'm embarrassed and ashamed to admit that "worship" for me once meant a 20-minute set on Sunday morning. There is a quality in my existence that I sense now, a smaller, quieter reality that "fits." To my deep surprise, I'm happiest when I'm doing small tasks, like feeding the animals or walking the dogs or talking pictures of the sunrise on a winter morning.
Chasing recognition no longer matters. I don't know why I ever got caught up in it in the first place. But I do know that I'm desperate for God. I'm learning how to keep moving (literally). Every new path is a discovery. Life with God is a daring adventure. Mountains bring out the suppressed charismatic in me. Music sparkles and hums. Yes, I know I'm odd. Admitting that I'm eccentric is the ultimate understatement, like saying Donald Trump values his poll numbers. Still, I want to be productive and useful. I feel powerful and weak at the same time. What a gift, powerlessness is. In the moment I think I'm the loneliest, it turns out I sense His presence as never before. When I feel like I'm stuck or struggling, I blog or write. For me, writing is an act of defiance -- the height of egotism and vaguely scandalous, but satisfying all the same. Authenticity matters. If it's slick and packaged, it's suspect. Presenting a kingdom alternative to churchianity is now imperative to me. We can't just act lowly; we are lowly.
So here I am, communing with God in earnest for perhaps the first time in my life. I know I'm late to the party, but I got lost. The "new" life of a Christian mystic isn't really new. It's just been hidden or we've been distracted from it. No church or pastor or book can ever give this to us. Our only hope is to get back to Jesus. Because if all we do is talk theology, "what good is that?" (James 2:16).
Saturday, January 23
3:54 PM As if you weren't already bored to death with farm pix. Lol.
9:48 AM "I love snow for the same reason I love Christmas: It brings people together while time stands still. Cozy couples lazily meandered the streets and children trudged sleds and chased snowballs. No one seemed to be in a rush to experience anything other than the glory of the day, with each other, whenever and however it happened." Rachel Cohn.
7:44 AM Good morning folks! As you can see, we've still got power (thank the Lord) though I see that large swathes of North Carolina are experiencing outages. My guess is that the farm got about 8 inches of snow and we're expecting another inch or two today, with thawing starting tomorrow as the temps get back into the 40s. In the meantime, books have become my closest friends. To say I'm eager to get back into the classroom after the break is a gross understatement. The world gives us plenty of opportunities to grow, and just as my students are beginning their second semester of Greek, so I've enrolled in Grief 102. (I passed Grief 101, just barely.) One of the first lessons of Grief 102 is realizing that each of us has the power to choose the direction our lives will take. You can be weak and strong at the same time. Despair and hope, sorrow and joy, death and life are no more mutually exclusive than are cold winter snow and bright winter sunlight. As someone who is still experiencing grief, I don't want to respond to tragedy in a way that will exacerbate the evil I've already experienced. I have no power to control what happened to Becky. But I do have the power to determine the course of my life. This truth was brought home to me last night as I watched the trailer to a new movie that promises to be a terrific commentary on this power I'm talking about, which can be much greater than anyone expected.
Again, life depends on the choices we make and the grace we receive. Becky chose ITIZWEL for her license plate when she got sick, and I can choose to have that same attitude toward my life and circumstances. My greatest heroes are those who never give up. They stick it out. They make life work for them. They overcome adversity. If they fall, they get back up again. As former world heavyweight champion Jack Dempsey said, "A champion is someone who gets up when he can't." Many people my age have already run up the white flag. They're attending their own wake. Truth is, it's hard to run the race of life. You have to count on all your reserves to make it to the finish line. Each of us has a race to run and, as Yogi Berra (who finished his race in 2015) famously put it, "It ain't over till it's over." This is one of the reasons I loved Becky so much. Like all strong women, she was a teacher. The greatest teachers I've known fill you with hope and give you a million reasons to embrace life. True teaching is always grounded in wisdom and compassion. As Eddie the Eagle proved, when teachers doubt your potential, show them they're wrong. It's taken a few hard knocks in life to make me realize that loss can function as a catalyst to change us. As long as I am a teacher, I want to remember that. I want to live the rest of my life as joyfully and productively as I can. Becky set a high standard for me, and I feel honored and blessed to uphold it.
Ready or not, the semester is beginning, both for my students in Greek 102 and for Dave in Grief 102. I think it's going to be awesome.
P.S. The song at the end of the movie trailer is called OUTRO by the French band M83 from their album, "Hurry Up We're Dreaming." Never have I heard a more powerful and peaceful composition. Perfection. Begin the video at the 8:30 mark.
Friday, January 22
6:48 PM One of my daughters sent me this picture:
Wow. Isn't that great? Fellow Christian, whatever our circumstances are, we are to be on duty constantly for King Jesus. Sadly, we have become a little churchy, singing hymns in our comfortable sanctuaries when we should be doing battle. Paul's command to the Philippians to "live as good citizens in a manner worthy of the gospel" (Phil. 1:27) was a brilliant stroke, for he appeals to their sense of civic duty as residents of a Roman colony. Here we have the heart of the gospel: standing together, in line of battle, unflinchingly standing our ground against the devil by the power of the Holy Spirit. We worship and serve One who was executed by the Romans and who would have been considered an enemy of the state. Doesn't matter. "For the sake of Christ" is sufficient rationale to suffer for His sake. Take a look at that guard in the picture again. How would you describe him? Devoted. Single-minded. Duty-bound. Dedicated. Unflinching. Obedient to his superiors. Cold! And how does the church measure up? God's people are so easily diverted today. We can become so upset over (or so involved in) world conditions that we forget to live the gospel. Friends, there are battles to fight, and if we shirk our duty as the Israelites did we will be left to wander in the wilderness. Our politicians think religion is a good thing because it helps get them elected, but they have no intention of going "all out" for Jesus. Such people make absolutely no impact for the gospel. A real Christian is sold out not merely to a cause or to a church but to Christ.
When people look at Dave Black, do they see this kind of devotion -- the devotion of a soldier who is completely sold out to his or her cause? They can and they should. Lord, grant me such devotion.
5:22 PM Man honors the memory of his wife.
The best way to deal with grief? Turn it into something positive.
4:58 PM Grape Nuts on the front porch for the birdies.
In a place, of course, where I can enjoy watching them eat. :)
12:38 PM Just fed the donkeys. Loving the snow!
11:36 AM Here's the Breithorn -- the first 4,000 meter peak in the Swiss Alps that I hope to climb this summer.
Its elevation is 13,661 feet. If I do make it to the top, I'm sure it will be the slowest ascent in the history of the mountain. Below: The Matterhorn as seen from the summit of the Breithorn.
10:32 AM Pix:
1) My youngest grandson.
2) It's snowing at Nate and Jessie's farm.
3) Here too!
9:16 AM We're getting a dusting of snow right now, barely enough to cover the grass, but we're expecting several inches before Sunday, which means that I'll be doing lots of writing during my enforced absence from the track and trails. I've often heard it said that the elderly are increasingly in the world but not of it. My experience has been the opposite. I feel the disjunction is neither biblical nor necessary. A central part of God's original design for us is that we would subdue the earth. I believe this is first hinted at in the creation narrative. Being involved in God's creation is part and parcel of what it means to be human. My point in all this is not to suggest that we Christians are to be worldly in a sinful way. We are to be "worldly" in the sense of participating in all that God's world offers -- the richness of His gifts to us as seen in nature, the musical arts, travel, etc. There are so many places in this world I want to see and so much music I want to discover and so many challenges I want to participate in. Above all, I'm called to imitate the Jesus who washed the feet of His enemies and prayed for their forgiveness. Especially as we get older we need to ask, "During these short fleeting years of life, what are the important tasks demanding my attention?" The admonition to "grow in grace" is addressed to older people as well as to all other Christians. It is an imperative from heaven for us to study to prepare ourselves for the life to come. To this end, older people like me need to cultivate their spirits, minds, and bodies continually. A mind functions best when it is in full use constantly. (Thus I write). The same is true for the body. (Thus I'm active.) In addition, older people should give out as well as take in. We need to be givers and not only receivers. Without becoming busybodies in other people's affairs, we can be helpful to our kids and grandkids and to our neighbors down the block. It is my duty, as I see it, not only to have a pleasant and cheerful frame of mind but also to be physically fit and healthy in my appearance. When people whom we love die and we pass through the lowlands of sorrow, we realize that our loved ones are better off than when they lingered here, and while we miss them sorely and sigh to be reunited with them, we neither help them nor ourselves by going around with a long face. Older people naturally have more suffering and sorrow than the young, but God knows and supplies all our needs. The glorious truth is that the Lord helps those who cannot help themselves. I qualify! At the same time, may I suggest that there's no use in asking God to perform services that we ourselves can do. God will not make us read that book or get out and exercise or continue the upward climb.
I'm told there are three periods of life: Early Life (the period of preparation -- birth to 30 years); Middle Life (the period of achievement -- 30-65); and Old Age (the period of retirement -- 65 to the close). I'm not buying it. Should you ask me when I'm going to retire, don't be surprised if I tell you, "At about 11:00 tonight." In light of God's servant love to me, I must be willing to keep on washing the feet of others. At the same time, there's so much of God's creation that awaits my discovery. Today I just "happen" to be working on my chapter called "Lists" for my book Running My Race, so it's been on my mind. Here's one of my lists:
If I Had My Life to Do Over Again
Friend, I encourage you to shamelessly produce your own list and then give yourself a fist bump. It really is a big deal!
Thursday, January 21
7:08 PM NASA sure has some amazing winter storm images.
6:44 PM Care to take a walk on the farm?
2:20 PM I am one happy man. Just had lunch with Kim and Joel.
The kids are soooo sweet.
Papa B loves you!
8:44 AM Just ordered three books from Amazon Prime. They will be here on Monday. "Free shipping" always justifies my purchases.
8:20 AM Want to do your doctorate in Germany? Go here.
8:06 AM I was reading Hebrews 1 this morning in the Good News Bible (TEV).
Parts of it are truly outstanding. The translators render "Thou are my Son; today have I begotten thee" as "You are my Son; today I have become your Father." Great so far. And then there's this footnote on v. 8: "or, God is your kingdom." The text of the Good News Bible, of course, reads "Your kingdom, O God, will last forever and forever!" The confusion here stems from the Greek: Is theos nominative or vocative? The translators have taken it as a vocative (correctly, in my view), but at least they note the alternative. Good for them. But here's what puzzles me. Notice that they begin a new paragraph in verse 4.
This is impossible. It contradicts the Greek text. Verses 1-4 are all one long sentence in the original. Making a new paragraph in verse 4 is just not empirically possible. It's completely illogical -- like asserting "married bachelor." This sort of inconsistency drives me nuts. (People sometimes tell me I'm too OCD about these kinds of things but it's part of my temperament.) I really, truly, sincerely believe we can do better. And yet, these kinds of oversights are hardly exceptional. Am I hereby trying to make a case for the study of Greek? In one sense yes. But at least you can compare other English translations before arriving at your conclusion as to the paragraph structure of a New Testament book. Again, I deeply appreciate the translators who produced the Good News Bible. When I was a teenager I literally could not put this book down. The text was readable, and the line drawings were fantastic. But our focus should always be on faithfulness to the text as the Holy Spirit inspired it -- and this includes matters of syntax and structure, not just words.
Finally, as an aside, I had to smile when I realized (again) how Hebrews is placed after Philemon in our English Bibles. This wasn't always the case. In our earliest manuscripts, Hebrews comes after Romans or between 2 Thessalonians and 1 Timothy. (Both codex Sinaiticus and codex Vaticanus place Hebrews after 2 Thessalonians.) In other words, Hebrews assumed a prominent position in the Pauline letters at an early date. It was only in the fourth century that Hebrews began to consistently appear after Philemon. My point is that, according to the earliest manuscript evidence, Hebrews was an integral part of the Pauline collection. David Trobisch, who is an acknowledged expert in all things canonical, has argued that the placing of Hebrews after Philemon was a distortion of the original canonical edition of the New Testament. (See The First Edition of the New Testament, p. 25.) Needless to say, these facts are not sufficiently heeded by today's New Testament students, in my opinion.
All of this is relevant to our LXX class, because one of the earliest questions we will face is: "Which books should be included in the Septuagint?" It's necessary to raise this question because there is no one indisputable "Septuagint" but "Septuagints" (plural). Ralhf's edition of the LXX even contains the Song of Mary from Luke 2!
Think about this: If Hebrews is genuinely Pauline, this would change everything about the way we interpret Paul. Hebrews would be included in our New Testament theology books, and when we wanted to study, say, Paul's view of church leadership, we'd have to include such passages as Heb. 13:7 and Heb. 13:17. The undeniable reality is that questions of canon and authorship matter. Of course, both sides demonize the other. Proponents of Pauline authorship are dismissed as obscurantists, while proponents of Hebrews' non-Paulinity are accused of succumbing to the spirit of the age. But why should we tolerate this kind of judgmental divisiveness? Maybe we need another conference on campus to discuss the issue!
Anyhow, that's my take on Hebrews for today. The fact is, all of us have biases and presuppositions. Many issues we have never personally studied. We tend to rely too heavily on the work of others. I know I do. So whether or not you espouse the Pauline authorship of Hebrews, prayerfully consider looking at the evidence yourself before making up your mind.
And do be patient with me when I chase rabbit trails.
Wednesday, January 20
4:18 PM Picture update:
1) Early supper tonight: homemade stir fry.
2) Then it's time to light a fire in the fireplace and read my new book.
3) Oh, here's my next 5K in two weeks. What a worthy cause!
12:18 PM Worked out. Did a 5K. Drove to the post office and bank. Filled up my water jugs. Fed and watered the animals. (I think I'm ready for the snow event we're expecting this weekend.)
I was listening to NPR while driving to the Y and who else but my favorite sports commentator should come on the air. Frank DeFord -- yes, the Sports Curmudgeon himself -- was named the best living sports writer by GQ for good reason.
Always witty and pungent, he's been doing weekly commentary on NPR since 1980. Well, today I couldn't help but notice a considerable change in his voice. His speech was slurred, and he was hard to follow. However, the content was vintage DeFord (today's topic: how team owners relocate to another city at the drop of the hat when the money is better -- i.e., where's the loyalty?). At the same time, I had this sick feeling that there was more to his commentary than met the eye. And I was right. As he concluded his curmudgeondary commentary, he announced that NPR has cut back his air time to just once a month -- the first Wednesday of the month to be exact. Frank being Frank (a super classy guy), he seemed to take all of this in stride. But I was livid. I have no idea what happened to Frank -- a stroke probably. I don't care. Nothing has changed as far as I'm concerned. Frank is still the best in my book. But clearly he's being edged out. And -- reading between the lines -- he's not happy about it.
Which reminds me. When I was young, my pastor at First Baptist Church Windward in Kailua suffered a stroke. Within a few weeks the deacons had fired him. "Can't understand him," people complained. Well, I could. Yes, I had to listen harder. But for crying out loud, you don't fire a godly pastor simply because of a disability. What happened to Paul's strength-in-weakness teaching? What about "Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of heaven"? I've noticed that when Diane Rehm is mentioned on the EIB Network, Rush usually asks: "You mean she's still on the air?" Yes, Mr. Limbaugh, she's still on the air even though she's struggling with her voice. I don't know about you, but in my book Diane is one of the best interviewers out there. Mastering an interview is just plain hard work. But Diane nails it. She always sticks to the main points and won't accept guff from her guests or from her callers. She speaks as though she's talking to just one person. Yes, you have to concentrate to understand what she's saying. Yes, she speaks a lot slower than Rush or Shawn. Yes, she's a liberal. Who cares? The fact that she keeps on keeping on is enough to have me coming back again and again to her program.
Of course, you and I have our act together so it's obvious people should listen to what we have to say. It's also obvious that other people aren't as together as we are.
We'll pray for them.
8:04 AM Here's another cold-weather thought for you (my brain is frozen) before I leave for the gym. I admire people with passion. I love watching people who enjoy what they do, who are caught up in the pure unadulterated joy of living. As a huge fan of the Beatles, check out "George" in this YouTube of The Beats, a Beatles tribute band, singing "All You Need Is Love."
He's the second guy from the right. Have you ever seen a performer enjoying himself so much? I think it must disappoint God ("disappoint" may be too weak of a word here) when we walk past a field of purple flowers and don't notice it. I think we've got a wrong view of God. Yes, we are to bring Him pleasure. Yes, we are to enjoy Him forever. But did you know that He wants to give you pleasure too? That He wants you to stop and smell the coffee? The famous theologian Dr. Seuss put it this way: "Don't cry because it's over. Smile because it happened." I'm still riding high after my hike yesterday. I can still see me coming across a gaggle of geese and watching them fly away in startled panic. (Sorry, guys.) Who needs wine when you can drink deeply of joy? "Joy is the infallible sign of the presence of God," said Pierre Teilhard du Chardin. And did you notice? Joy and sorrow are unusually inseparable. You rarely have one without the other. Yes, life is hard, but isn't it time you had a good old-fashioned belly laugh? I did while watching "George" perform with such sheer exuberance. I want to measure my life by smiles, not by tears.
Thoreau was right: The more you chase happiness, the more it will elude you. But when you do other things, happiness comes and sits softly on your shoulder.
7:14 AM Good morning on this frigid winter day (it's 17 degrees)! Next week I start teaching Greek again and, hopefully, students will be learning Greek from me. The problem is how you define "learn." The masochist in me delights in asking seminary grads to read for me a single line from their Greek New Testament. They usually can't. Much depends on your goal. If, as Dr. Beck pointed out in the video I linked to the other day, your goal is to graduate with a ministry M.Div., well, Greek is required and you will take it whether or not you're even faintly interested in the language. Many students ask the utilitarian question: "What good is Greek when I have all these computer tools?" Still others wonder, "How can I ever hope to apply the 'periphrastic imperfect' construction to my daily walk with Jesus?" When I was learning Latin (or, better, teaching myself Latin: I never had any formal instruction in the language), my goal was a simple one: to be able to read the church fathers in the original. I wasn't even faintly interested in perusing De Bello Gallico (or, for that matter, Winnie Ille Pu).
As for Greek, I wanted to read my Greek New Testament in the original and maybe eventually teach the language (which, by the sheer grace of God, I've been doing for 40 years now). It's a shame that our students can't all have the same goals, but that's life. I suppose to each their own. But learning Greek is not just about grammar: you learn all sorts of things about the culture, literature, even geography of the first-century world. I personally feel privileged that I can speak German when I go to Germany and Switzerland. That is so un-American. Then there's this serendipity: if you know German and English, you've basically got Dutch figured out in terms of reading the language. I can assure you that knowing one foreign language will help you to acquire another. (After one year of Latin you will know more than Google Translate.)
In our LXX class, I will have my students recite Greek, parse Greek, translate Greek, and compose Greek. I may even introduce some basic conversational phrases. (Maybe. I'm not a huge fan of the "living language approach." No one today speaks Koine Greek as a first language.) Studying language in this way promotes sharpness across the board -- it can make you a better thinker, speaker, exegete, and teacher (hopefully). You will understand English a lot better too. But mainly, I just don't think reading anything in translation is optimum. Frankly, I don't trust Loeb. As we will see in the LXX class, no translation can ever be of better quality than the original regardless of how well the translators think they did their job. I personally have gotten a great deal out of language study. I love Greek, I love Latin, I love German, I love Spanish, I love French. I even love Hebrew, and I especially love reading my Hebrew New Testament. But tell it not in Gath. Gratias tibi ago.
P.S. (which is Latin, by the way): I'm pointing three fingers at myself. I want to be a better and more accurate Greek teacher this year than I was last year. Let me give you an example. When I introduce the Greek "definite" article (the "definite" is superfluous: Greek has no indefinite article so we could just say "article"), I've often noted that some languages, ancient and modern, lack the word "the": Latin, Russian, Korean. Technically speaking, this isn't true, at least not for Latin. Latin doesn't use an article but it has pronouns that function in much the same way. A good example is the title (quoted above) Winnie Ille Pu. Here "Ille" (= "that") is a demonstrative pronoun being used as an article. Interestingly, this is exactly how Homer used the Greek demonstratives. Hence from now on I will desist in making the assertion that "Latin doesn't have an article" (even though that statement is technically correct).
Whew. Conscience cleared.
Tuesday, January 19
6:58 PM Well, the primaries have become mean-spirited and it's impossible to tell truth from lies. Which means it was a great day to get outdoors. Today I hiked the Roanoke Canal Trail. It was awesome. My goal was to walk about 10 miles to break in my new shoes. I ended up hiking 13 some-odd miles.
It was a fabulous trek along segments of this historic towpath. I spotted owls, ducks, geese, and hawks.
The trail is located along I-95 near the city of Weldon -- about 2 hours from the farm in the flat lowlands of eastern North Carolina. The temp never got over 19 degrees (real feel) but thankfully there was very little snow and ice.
Here you skirt the mighty Roanoke River, which carries 6 billion gallons of water every day to the Albemarle Sound in the Atlantic.
I definitely need to come back in the spring when the redbuds are in bloom.
A rare view of I-95.
Thankfully, my shoes held up fine, and so did my legs and lungs. Here's a GoPro of the hike. As I said, it was awesome!
P.S. Stop by This Life I Live if you can. It's the story of a man who is losing his wife to cervical cancer. Pretty powerful.
8:12 AM The CNN staff comments on The person who changed my life.
I have a memory. I remember a person who changed my life from the inside out. I want the world to know who she was. In my new book, I'm creating a biography. It's not just facts. It's not just "Becky was the most beautiful women I ever knew." (Wouldn't you agree she was beautiful?)
It's an exploration of a life lived rather than an apotheosis or a history. It's a testimonial to who she was. It's what I saw and knew about this person. Of course, if you knew her, you have a different perspective. You have your own memories. I can't write about those. I can only write about what I knew. Most importantly, I'm not writing for you. I'm writing for me, attempting to give clarity to the jumbled and confused mixture of memories in my brain. I'm trying to preserve what will gradually fade away with time. I don't want to forget her. Ever.
Husband, the world is not a safe place. Cancer rages, death strikes without warning. So cherish her today. I do not believe for a moment that Becky's death was accidental. Even as a child I knew that this is not a perfect world. Now I'm letting her go in order to live again. I will have to let her go many more times. I miss her. I love her. She will never be forgotten. The person who changed my life.
7:46 AM Reading The Hound of the Baskervilles last night really bought out the aesthete in me. Take these two lines:
Only a man gifted by God could produce such delicately crafted words. It's like listening to anything Paul McCartney composed. What talent. If only men and women would give the Giver the credit. That's one reason, I think, God never entrusted leadership of the local church to an individual man. It's too easy to take credit that way. But when you recede into the group, when you reject the notion of primus inter pares (first among equals), when you acknowledge that eldership is completely non-hierarchical, everything changes. Like most of my generation of Baby Boomers, I've watched famous pastors come and go. Swapping suits for jeans doesn't change the reality. I'm here to tell you something you already know: church leaders are ordinary people and their churches are imperfect. Pastor friend, it's not about you or your church but what kind of bride you are helping to prepare. I will forever cherish watching my volunteer elders investing their lives in others and working together as a team (working their fingers to the bone, by the way). They were missional without being professionals. They viewed their secular employment as their mission field, plain and simple. "Among" -- this is the way of Jesus. Elders among us. Certainly the dechurched and the unchurched are attracted to these kinds of values. I know I am. I stutter in amazement when I see the great apostle Peter referring to himself simply as a "fellow elder" (one gorgeous word in Greek: sumpresbuteros) in 1 Pet. 5:1. It's not that he wasn't the leading spokesmen among the apostles. It's not that he wasn't the most visible of the leaders in the early church. It's just that he wanted Jesus, the Senior Pastor (1 Pet. 5:4), to have "first place in everything" (Col. 1:18). Pastor friend, before your church can get this, before your people can see that in Christ we are all equally clergy (ministers) and laity (the people of God), you need to make Jesus the Senior Pastor of your church. Then visitors will discover that church is not a place people go to hear a man speak, but a people they belong with.
P.S. My new hiking shoes. Lightweight and super-comfortable. I'll give them a try today.
Monday, January 18
3:45 PM Pepperdine University announces an opening in New Testament.
12:50 PM Howdy folks! I'm back. Had an über-strenuous workout at the Y (being the Alpha Male that I am) and then got my cardio at the Dan River. Distance: 5.05 miles. Time: 1:06 minutes. Pace: About 13 minutes per mile. I walked the first 2.5 miles and then jogged the last 2.5 miles. It was great. I feel I have more energy now than before I exercised.
For a while I thought about getting some ear buds and listening to music while walking/running/climbing but I decided against it. I listen instead to the "music" of the outdoors: coo, screech, chatter, whistle, chirp. I find it's also a good time to talk with God and listen for His voice. There is no substitute in life for a consistent devotional time. By this I don't necessarily mean a time we set aside for Bible study and prayer. I mean a time when I surrender my mind, will, and body consciously to the supernatural presence, purpose, and power of God, my Creator and Father, to Christ, my Savior and Lord, and to the Holy Spirit, my Comforter and Guide. I find that as I walk it's a very good time to rest in God, wait on His voice, listen to Him speak, and talk with Him. You know, our prayer time should not be a series of well-rehearsed phrases but a natural conversation, just like we would talk to our spouses. It should include thanksgiving, praise, petition, and worship. I have found this time to be a very joyous experience. By it I'm nourished in the things of the Spirit and prepared for the rigors of living. Prayer walking, I guess you could call it. There's no substitute for it in my "walk" with God.
Back to writing.
8:15 AM Morning, one and all!
For entertainment last night I watched the dogs as they romped in my library. They are great teachers, dogs are. Enjoy life. Be loyal. Play daily. Do something that leaves yourself breathless. Always leave your mark on the world. Maybe that's why I enjoy climbing mountains so much -- the exhilaration of strenuous physical activity and the crystalline, nostril-stinging air. Right now, though, I'm much more like a woodpecker, pecking away at my book project until I finish the job. As you know, I completed my chapter on grief last week and my assistant has sent me his edits. But I just can't bring myself to open the file again. I guess the publisher will have to take care of that. I doubt, yet I try to trust. I inch forward hesitantly, like a turtle who can make progress only by coming out of his shell and sticking his neck out. Like most people, though, I'd rather not expose myself to unnecessary pain. Oh well. That's life. Maybe someone stronger than me could do it, but it's beyond my powers.
On a happier note, I'm reading through Philippians again and I've noticed that Paul's prayers always included a "so that" moment. (See, for example, the prayer in Phil. 1:9-11.) So I've started to pray "so that" prayers. "God, please bless my children so that they will be strong in the word and so that You would be glorified in their lives and families today." Praying like this can bring greater focus to our times of intercession. "Lord, please bless Saeed so that as he returns home he can be the husband and father his family needs right now." (Sadly, the picture is not all rosy.) "Father, please bless our LXX class so that my students can be better exegetes of the New Testament and, as a result, better followers of You." In Phil. 1:9-11 Paul has two so thats: "So that you might be able to discern what is best in life," and "so that you may be pure and blameless on that day when Jesus comes back." Apparently Paul believed in the "so that" principle! When we pray the Lord's Prayer, we can keep this goal in mind. "Lord, let Your kingdom come so that Your agenda moves forward and not mine. Remind me today that there is only one kingdom that matters. Earthly power means nothing. Real power belongs only to You, Lord of the universe." As Donald Trump illustrates, one can have abundance of things without abundance of life. We can be poor in the midst of plenty. Was there ever such a time as this when people surround themselves with more things to make life more enjoyable only to be the most unhappy and bored generation in all of history? Life doesn't consist in things, nor is it measured by how many successful deals I can cut. Abundance is found only in God's grace, which is freely given and freely received. My treasure is in heaven, and Jesus reigns in life, here and now, not because He is an earthy sovereign but because He is God. And because I am God's child, I too am a plutocrat.
On yet another note, this is hardly earth-shattering news but I have now gone 353 miles since I began to walk/run/climb last March. That's the distance from Baltimore to Boston. (Yay!) It's also the distance an airliner travels in a single hour. (Ugh.) Just think: Only 24,650 miles to go is if want to circumnavigate the world (whose circumference is a mere 25,000 miles). It's hard to believe it, but I travel that many miles by plane every year. Does it get tiring? You bet. What God requires from us is simple obedience. We just walk step by step. We take the next step and then let God take care of the details. I realize this sounds trite. You're probably one step away from saying "Blah, blah, blah." But honestly, this is the lesson God has been teaching me through all of my running and climbing. A romanticized notion of the Christian life gets trashed real quick when you have to write a chapter about your spouse's death. Me, broken and hurting? Most of us know nothing, nothing about the struggles of our fellow human beings. Thankfully, God has relieved me of the burden of having to be all together emotionally. With every passing day the process becomes more excruciating. Nothing develops a man's spiritual life as when he realizes that he is dust. But this is the very heart of the Christian experience. Dying with Christ, we rise to walk in newness of life. We go down so that we might go up. We die in order to live. "We lose what we cannot keep to gain what we cannot lose." Pastors live again in the hearts of their flocks, parents in the lives of their children, evangelists in the souls of their converts, authors in the minds of their readers. We outlive ourselves only when we live to the glory of God and for the good of others.
So let's give people Jesus today. He's the only constant in life. Let Him interrupt your comfortable Christianity. He's good at doing that. But we've got to take the first step.
Off to the gym!
Sunday, January 17
3:50 PM This book arrived two days ago. I'm enjoying it immensely.
I've read plenty of books about mountaineering and especially about climbing Mount Everest, but this one seems to be different in many ways. In the first place, it wasn't written by a famous mountaineer but by the son of Tenzing Norgay, who along with Sir Edmund Hillary was the first man to stand atop the world's highest peak. It reads like the everyday journal of a common guy like you and me, and you feel like you are right there, in the midst of all the action. It's a self-deprecating look at the ups and downs of mountaineering. In addition, it affords a unique perspective into Tibetan Buddhism -- a subject about which I am woefully ignorant. Place names like Siliguri, Bagdogra, and Sikkim keep popping up -- names familiar to me because of the work of my good friend Mammen Joseph, an evangelist to northeast India. Being a Sherpa, the author represents the underdogs of Everest ascents --the ordinary guys who trudge nonstop up and down the mountain fixing lines and storing oxygen caches, and just basically getting the mountain ready for wealthy Westerners to fulfill their lifelong dreams. The book is perfect for the armchair mountaineer like me, and I'll probably finish it tonight -- inspired perhaps to finish my own account of the "mountains" the Lord has asked me to climb in my 63 years.
11:08 AM Henry Neufeld continues his discussion of Bible translations in this YouTube.
Viewer, brace yourself: Henry raises important questions about a "functional equivalent" theory of Bible translation. So ... should you use the New Living Translation or not?
(Side note: Henry is the author of several books on hermeneutics and Bible translations, including What's in a Version?)
10:50 AM I've watched this interview twice now: The Importance of Studying Biblical Languages. It features my esteemed colleagues David Beck, Ben Merkle, and Tracy McKenzie. It's like a breath of fresh air that will encourage you to use whatever knowledge of the biblical languages you currently have. David Beck said it best: It's perfectly okay to use your English Bibles when preparing a Bible study or sermon. Just keep your Greek New Testament open beside it. If you're looking for an encouraging word today, and if you've had at least one semester of Greek or Hebrew, this video will stir your soul and encourage you to step into all that God has for you in this one life you've got to live.
Please, pastor friend, I beg you: Use your English Bible. But keep your Greek open beside it. You will be surprised at what the Lord can teach you.
10:24 AM This article puts words to realities that my heart has been feeling but couldn't fully express. Thank God for the life of Mike Riddering. Please, let's pray for his wife and his children.
10:12 AM Odds and sods on a snowy winter day:
1) I loved this quote by Dolly Berthelot:
I found it at a brand spanking new website called Nurturing Creativity (hosted by Energion Publications). I felt like I was having coffee with my best friend. Don't be surprised if reading Dolly's essay makes you want to start exploring a brave new world of thought yourself.
2) Eric Metaxas hits it out of the park:
3) The Swiss blow me away. Check out this topological map of the Alps they've published. If you zoom in you'll see even the smallest hiking trails. Here's the region I'd like to climb this summer:
We'll see ....
8:25 AM I just booked my flight to Dallas to attend the ETS regional meeting April 1-2 at Dallas Seminary. This year's theme is "Exegesis and Hermeneutics." Doug Moo and Ed Glenny are the plenary speakers. Quite a line-up, eh? I plan on reading a paper called "The Medium Is the Message: Hermeneutics and Rhetorical Features in the Greek New Testament." (It will also be a chance to check up on mom and dad.) Although it's reductive, I categorize most papers read at ETS as either consensus-oriented or non-consensus-oriented. By a serendipity of circumstances, I have been blessed to know a handful of scholars who dared to color outside the lines. Few impacted me more than my Greek teacher and erstwhile colleague at Biola University, Harry Sturz, who had the audacity to defend the usefulness of the Byzantine Text-type. Or take William Farmer, whose defense of Matthean priority got me rethinking the order of the Gospels. Neither of these scholars encouraged their students to replace their natural curiosity with a boiler-plate mentality. I think we need more teachers like them. In any event, today I'm working on the fifth chapter of my book Running My Race (today's topic: church). I love diving into my blog posts from the past 14 years and seeing how my thinking has developed (or at least changed) on the topic of ecclesiology. I don't know your feeling about church, but what if we freed up our leaders to be ordinary people and our fellowships to be simple families? I mean, Scripture is not all that obscure here. If your church hasn't tried this, you have no idea how healthy a body can be even though we are all a bunch of spiritual misfits. To a degree, our churches become what we allow them to become. Let's give teeth to our convictions. Press hard on the simplicity of the gospel and it will hold up. Believe it or not, church doesn't have to be that complicated. That's why Jesus makes good sense to post-moderns. That's why church feels relevant to them. As we watch this beautiful thing called church, we aren't just observing people but rather darkness receding and chains breaking and joyful places being created. Folks, we can do the hard things. We can run the race set before us as the people of God. Don't be surprised if Jesus calls upon you to give it a whack this new year!
Saturday, January 16
6:42 PM Oh my God! Is it true? I just checked CNN News. The Iran hostages, including our brother Abedini, are coming home! Why, I just prayed for him this morning! His picture is on my frig. How can I not pray for him (Heb. 13:3)? I am sitting here weeping for joy. I'm like the man whom Jesus healed who just couldn't stop "jumping and leaping and praising God." I won't lie: I felt like I was prison with him. Prayer has connected me, reconnected me, and introduced me to one of the church's heroes. The truth is, God is setting prisoners free the world over, if not physically then spiritually. We tend to make the gospel more manageable than it really is. The gospel is earth-shaking Good News! I am grateful. I hope these men can now return to their homes and families, and I hope the world sees in their release a parable of the love and forgiveness of the gospel. I hope they find us Christians kind and generous and committed and uncompromisingly loyal. Right now we should be throwing our hands up and shouting for joy because surely God was in this.
6:02 PM If you're going to see the movie 13 Hours, I have three pieces of advice:
First, be sure to read the book, preferably before you see the movie. The book will help you to understand better the background for the emotional smack down you are about to experience in the movie theater. Serious questions have been raised about the attack that have yet to be answered. Surely someone ought to be held responsible for the inexcusable lack of protection we afforded our Libyan ambassador. Mr. Stevens repeatedly asked for protection and got none (or very little). This point was mentioned only once in the movie, and then only in an obscure way.
Second, take a gander at this YouTube in which the actual protagonists of the movie are interviewed.
Tig, Oz, and Tanot come across as normal guys who are caught up in a very abnormal situation. They leave the "why did this happen and who is to blame" question open for the viewer to decide, but clearly they felt that their efforts to protect the ambassador had been unjustifiably thwarted.
Finally, take some Kleenex with you. When the movie ended there wasn't a dry eye in the theater. Even grown men were sobbing. I don't know about anyone else but the movie made me feel more patriotic than I've felt in a very long time while at the same time reminding me that even the best leaders (political or otherwise) are capable of making terrible mistakes. But more than anything, I was reminded that all of us who claim to be followers of Jesus Christ are enlisted in His army. The saints of the early church suffered the loss of everything -- jobs, property, wealth, even life itself -- rather than compromise with the age. Instead of offering a "harmless" pinch of incense to Caesar, they proclaimed "Jesus (alone) is Lord!" In Tertullian's day, some Christians excused themselves by saying they just "had" to make a living. To them he asked, "Must we live?" I'm thankful for men and women of courage everywhere who serve the Lord as wholeheartedly and uncompromisingly as did these men who got completely left out of the conversation as to how best to protect their ambassador.
In short, be prepared for stunning visual effects, massive explosions, but mostly a strong emotional connection to the guys in the movie. Had the director developed the latter characteristic a little better, I feel 13 Hours would rank right up there with Saving Private Ryan, given all of its realism as it portrayed the stark horror of battle.
10:44 AM Here's a running tip for all you 5Kers out there.
10:14 AM I went for a walk just now. We got plenty of rain yesterday but today is a different story. I have never seen the farm more beautiful.
I love this place. Lord, help me not to love it too much.
9:38 AM Just finished my chapter on missions. Yay! Which means I can go on to other things. Like this prognostication: The Republican primary will come down to tie knots. Would you really vote for a guy who is this old-fashioned...
... rather than a guy who has a hip tie knot?
You heard it here first.
8:36 AM Yet another thought on Ephesians 4. (Drat, sidetracked again!) Please, let's not think of "peace" as something that is always quiescent or passive. Peace is not necessarily silence. Some aspects of peace are, but the terms for peace in the Bible imply dynamic interrelationships on both personal and social levels. Peaceful relationships may (and usually do) involve conflict, diversity of opinion, even severe disagreement. Peacemakers call for justice within the context of righteousness and truth. Peace is rarely the result of simplistic solutions or grandiose gestures. To have true peace, there must be honesty and transparency.
(Seriously, I need to get back to writing and stay focused. Sigh.)
8:25 AM A further thought on Ephesians 4. I noticed that when Paul "quotes" Psalm 68:18 in Eph. 4:8, he does so "ad sensum," that is, according to the sense of the text. Psalm 68:18 says that the king "received gifts among men," while Paul writes that Jesus "gave gifts to men." (The LXX reads: ἔλαβες δόματα ἐν ἀνθρώποις. The prepositional phrase is a bit ambiguous). Paul can switch the verb while maintaining the same meaning. Hodge points out that "only a king who is laden with spoils is able to enrich his followers."
So here is my application. Maybe start by just looking around you. Who can you enrich today? Trust me, God has placed that person in your life so that you may be bounteous with what He has given you. That is the nature of God. Rather than clutching what He could never lose, Jesus willingly opened His hands to receive the nail prints of the cross (see Phil. 2:6-8). Or, as Paul says here in Eph. 4: "The person who used to rob must stop robbing and start working, in order to earn an honest living and to be able to help the poor" (verse 28). Wow. Giving trumps getting. Always has. So let's trust Jesus to lead us to those we can serve today with the gifts He has so richly blessed us with. "Blessed to be a blessing!"
8:02 AM While cooking breakfast this morning I was listening to "The People's Pharmacy." Being interviewed was the author of a new book on dieting. Have you ever been on a diet? You subsequently put it all back on again, didn't you? Dieting is not only ineffective, it actually makes things worse. Sustained weight loss and enhanced health comes only through weight training. Studies have shown that many of the degenerative diseases and most of the general weakness that accompanies aging are related to loss of muscle mass and strength. Adding muscle is a double solution because it (1) increases your physical capacity (a larger engine) and (2) increases your metabolic rate (higher energy requirements). Unlike dieting, which decreases the number of calories eaten per day, strength training (weight lifting) increases the number of calories used per day. And the really good news is that 60-80 year-olds can gain as much muscle as middle-aged and younger adults.
Dieting doesn't work for most people. Cardio won't take your weight off and keep it off. If you asked people who do weight training on a regular basis why they continue to exercise day after day, they would all give the same answer. They exercise because it makes them look and feel good. And when you look and feel good, that affects every area of your life -- your social, mental, and emotional life. When you feel good, you can climb mountains (literally), fight battles, win some of life's wars, relate better to others, and even overcome depression. When we live and serve God with our bodies, we do so in happy obedience. Glorifying God in our bodies as instruments of His righteousness becomes an avenue of highest fulfillment.
(Good grief, it sounds like I'm trying to sell my own book on weight loss.)
Dear reader, my prayer for you today is beautifully expressed in 3 John 2: "My dear friend, I wish above all things that you may prosper and enjoy good health, even as your soul prospers." And our health can prosper if we obey what Paul says in Rom. 12:1. Let me add: If you are convinced of the value of keeping physically fit, don't be afraid to share that experience with others. Why not lovingly challenge members of your family or your friends to join you in your fitness program? The way to stay active is to be active. With a well-planned exercise program, you can prepare yourself now for later years with an investment in physical vitality.
6:34 AM As you would expect from a great Greek scholar, I read only my Greek New Testament every day. Except when I read the Bible in translation. Okay, I read novels too. I also read books about the Bible.
Anyways, I got up at 4:30 this morning and was led to Ephesians chapter 4. Don't get me started on how convicting it was. Paul is writing about unity. In verse 3 he speaks of "preserving the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace." Frankly, I have no idea what that means. The English is too ambiguous. How in the world should all of these genitives be understood? Here's what I think is going on. Paul is describing what a mature church looks like. It's a church that is marked by oneness in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God (see 4:13). It's not marked by unity for unity's sake. It's only by "speaking the truth in a spirit of love that we can grow up in every way to Christ" (4:15). So let me try and paraphrase verse 3: "Do your very best to preserve the unity that God's Spirit produces by means of the peace that binds you together." Do you belong to a peaceful fellowship? You can. There is nothing like it in the world. It's a fellowship where everyone is doing their part. It's a fellowship in which "each person has received a special gift in proportion to what Christ has given them" (4:7). It's a fellowship in which the leaders "prepare all God's people for works of service" (4:12). And the result? "So shall we all come together to that oneness in our faith and in our knowledge of the Son of God. We shall become mature people, reaching to the very height of Christ's full stature" (4:13). Notice that nowhere does Paul make the leaders central. Sermon-centered gatherings leave too much work to the paid pros and overlook the part all of us are to play in "growing up in every way into Christ, who is the head" (4:15).
Now that is unity.
By the way, God taught me something really bad this morning from the Greek of Ephesians 4. When I got to the genitives of verse 9, I remembered that here we probably have an example of what grammarians call the "genitive of apposition." In other words, when Paul wrote that Jesus descended "to the lower depths of the earth," he may have simply meant that Christ descended "to the lower depths, that is, to the earth itself." If so, the reference here isn't to some sort of "descent into Hades" but rather to Christ's willingness to leave the glory of heaven and come to this (miserable) earth. Right now I have two good friends who are in Asia serving the people there for a couple of weeks. Their situation is hardly a comfortable one. This is not a strategy to get people to go and serve there, but the patient hard work of love is the way of the kingdom. The spirit of mission pushes us to serve our neighbors even when it costs us our comfort. Elsewhere Paul puts it this way: "Though I am completely free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, so that I may win as many people as possible" (1 Cor. 9:19). I have a better job than just teaching Greek. I get to serve others. So do you. It's almost too good to be true. Incarnational ministry frees us from the prison of materialism. It makes us want to give away our possessions so that others may live. No, Jesus is not slamming vacationing at 6 Flags. It's just that when we are serving Him by serving others, we have the same joy we feel when we see our kids squeal with delight while riding that roller coaster.
What a teacher, that Paul. He knew exactly what a healthy church looked like. Love without truth is the worst enemy of the church. We can't have real unity without obedience to the Scriptures and a heart of service. This is the yin and yang of ministry.
Friday, January 15
6:25 PM Poor me, having to "get in a long tube with a bunch of demons" every time I fly.
6:08 PM This weekend I'm finalizing my international "mission" trips for 2016. I use quotes because all of life ought to be a mission trip. Global missions is what it's all about, not international missions. And, since the US of A is part of our "globe," it's just as much a mission field as any of the other countries I'll be visiting this year. Which raises an interesting question about the value of what are normally referred to as "short term mission trips." You know, the kind where churches do all sorts of fundraising and then print a t-shirt with their favorite slogan ("First Baptist Church Loves India!"). I'm not against these kinds of trips. After all, the first "mission trip" Becky and I took together was a 3-month-long trip to West Germany in 1978. There are a trillion issues I could discuss here, but I'll give you my take on just one. The distinction between short-term and long-term missions is, I think, overdrawn. In fact, I think it's every Christian's duty to be a fulltime (i.e., global) missionary wherever they live. "Life is a mission trip; take it!" is the way one of my colleagues puts it. I agree in a sense that certain people are called by God to become cross-cultural missionaries, but it's not a calling that is reserved only for budget-supported "missionaries." Many Christians could easily serve the Lord in fulltime gospel ministry by acquiring secular jobs (i.e., non-church-supported platforms for ministry) in foreign countries -- and many in fact do just that. I suspect the reason many American evangelicals default to the "we-must-support-U.S.-sent-foreign-missionaries" idea is because this is the way the church has done it for decades. But as I argue in my essay The Future of Southern Baptist Missions, we've got to stop outsourcing foreign missions to our fellow American evangelicals if we're going to reach the nations in our generation. On top of this, I see very little being said today about another category of "missionary," namely the so-called NRM, or ''non-residential missionary.” This is the calling from the Lord to serve in Asia, Africa, or the Middle East, not by giving up one's gainful employment and relocating to these countries as a supported worker, but rather by using one's resources (including one's vacations) to travel and come alongside the existing churches, assist them in any way they think best, and do this on a consistent basis (year in and year out). Thousands of North American evangelicals are doing just this. But until we get many more to become involved personally, I honestly think it's counterproductive to the kingdom to offer only two options to our people (short-term or long-term). The fact is that many thousands of foreign nationals are eager to do the job of evangelism and church planting but lack the support to do so. They already know the language and culture. And, unlike many Western missionaries, they are willing to live at an economic level that is far below that of the typical Western church planter. For as little as $50 dollars a month you can begin to support one of these native missionaries, sending them to an unreached village that is just waiting to hear the Good News. To my way of thinking, it is the highest privilege of Western Christians (who are affluent compared to most people who live in the Majority World) to share in their ministries by sending them financial aid. If native evangelists do not go because no one will send them, the shame belongs to the body of Christ in the West. And remember: these are native evangelists who are already experts in the language and culture.
As I travel annually to Asia, Africa, or the Middle East, I am overcome as I see so much harvest ready for reaping. But where are the workers? They are there, ready and eager to do the work. So don't wait for your church missions committee to support your efforts to become a global missionary. Save your money, support a foreign national, become an NRM yourself, and perhaps even consider tentmaking in a foreign country. The very least you can do is to schedule a mission trip in your calendar before that trip to Disneyworld.
P.S. If you want to see that child you're supporting in India or Ethiopia, go and visit them. Take your own kids with you. After all, they're part of your family.
12:15 PM Hiked 5.2 miles today. Eight hikes down, 44 to go. Met a gentleman who was about my age. He was walking with a limp but otherwise looked like he was in great shape. Every time he took a step his left hip swiveled about 45 degrees. We chattered about the weather and then I resumed my normal pace. I thought to myself, "My stars! You, sir, are a hero to me. And I think that I push myself? You could be sitting on your sofa but here you are -- out exercising. God, forgive me for ever taking for granted my health. God, forgive me for my pride. I am no more responsible for my strength and health than I am for my blue eyes and height. Please dear God, help me to be a good steward of what you've given me."
While I was hiking I got a text from a good friend. In essence it said: "Dave, take good care of yourself as you climb mountains. We don't want to lose you!" My reply was short and sweet: "What a great friend you are! I promise to be careful. But you know me. I'm a risk taker!" It's my nature to push myself. It's one way I cope with losing Becky. But beyond that, I feel a holy discontentment with the status quo, mostly in my own life. I can never be satisfied with my current level of progress. Take the LXX class for example. In the past month I've not only been reviewing everything I've ever taught about the Septuagint, but I think I must have increased my knowledge by about 100 percent. I can't read enough, translate enough, and cogitate enough on the subject. And still I feel like I'm a child wading on the shore of a limitless ocean. This semester we will all grow -- teacher and student alike. We will become better Greek scholars, better Hebrew scholars, better LXX scholars, better translators, and (hopefully) better people. Want to be a good example to your kids and grandkids? Want to give them security, stability, and happiness? Then show them what living is all about. Never let them see you rust out or burn out. Tell your children you're the most blessed person on earth because you are. Maybe your convictions will help them decide what matters most in life. Love life, and your home will stand sweet, my friend. Happily and willingly accept life's mortality. Believe and live what you proclaim. Take risks in life. Try new hobbies, avocations, and goals.
This year should not be the same as last year for any of us.
Thursday, January 14
5:54 PM WARNING: Yet another post about hiking.
If you're still reading, it's probably because you're like me. You enjoy hiking, or want to. You realize that hiking is a great experience in every way. It involves breathing fresh air, getting great exercise, and enjoying the simple beauty of God's creation. On the trail you'll meet people of every size, every shape, every level of ability, and every age (even old duffers like me). Like me, you're tired of sitting on the couch, living life vicariously. You have begun to appreciate wide-open spaces. You want to get into better shape. With hiking, the possibilities are endless. Today I was able to complete my seventh hike of the year. (Only 45 more to go.) If I climb the Breithorn in Switzerland this summer, I'll need to work on my stamina while ascending high elevations. So I thought I'd return to Bedford and climb Sharp Top again. The hike gives you a pretty good workout (difficulty level: strenuous) and takes about 3 hours to complete. You experience a healthy elevation gain of 1,540 feet. (Compare that with the Breithorn: from the cable car station you only have to ascend 1,148 feet to arrive at the top of this 13,661 foot mountain.) Although Sharp Top is normally an extremely popular hike, I was almost alone on the mountain. It's a tough climb but the view from the summit is worth it. On the descent I jogged down the paved road that's normally used to drive people to the summit. As the park was closed today, there were no shuttles and thus it was permissible to use the roadbed. I enjoyed every minute of today's climb. Just because you qualify for membership in the AARP doesn't mean you have to lose muscle strength!
1) Here's the Bed and Breakfast I stayed in last night in Bedford. It's called Vanquility Acres Inn. Ellen and John do a fantastic job of pampering you. Highly recommended!
2) The view of the Peaks of Otter from my room. God gave me unbelievably gorgeous weather on this trip.
3) On my way to Sharp Top.
4) The Peaks of Otter. On the left is Sharp Top; on the right is Flat Top. I climbed both last year.
5) The trail head.
6) Steps and more steps!
7) Made it!
8) "It's wonderful to climb the liquid mountains of the sky. Behind me and before is God, and I have no fears." Helen Keller.
9) A view of Flat Top from the summit of Sharp Top.
10) I met these great guys and gals at the summit. They're Liberty U. students. We had prayer together then yakked about the Bible. When they left I had a 30-minute worship service alone with the Creator.
11) The day was bitterly cold. Here's a frozen waterfall.
12) I warmed up by running down this road.
I hope you enjoyed our tour of Sharp Top. Every season of the year offers different reasons to get outdoors and enjoy a day-hike. I even hear that Liberty U. guys like to propose on top of this mountain!
P.S. Here's some GoPro footage of the hike that I shot and edited today.
Wednesday, January 13
9:16 AM Hi folks,
I know, I know. All I seem to talk about these days is the great outdoors. Honestly, I live with the constant regret that I didn't awaken with childlike amazement to the beauty of hiking earlier than I did. Of course, I never took the wonders of Hawaii for granted when I lived there. But then I became a bit complacent after moving to California and NC/VA. But now that I'm officially "old" I've got no time to waste in taking things for granted. It's weird when I look back on my life. I spent the first 19 years of my existence on the most gorgeous island in the world. Then I spent 27 years in La Mirada, CA. And now I've spent 18 years on the East Coast. That seems like a very long time and yet I still feel young. I feel like a high school senior surfing all day long and being very active physically. Surely I can't be 63! Statistically, I'm in the fourth quarter of the game (three score years and ten), on the way to meeting my Maker. And I want the last quarter to be the best. Life is a series of choices. How should I spend my time? What is a worthy investment of my energy and resources? On the other hand, I think sometimes we can take life too seriously. Mandy Hale put it well: "You don't always need a plan. Sometimes you need to just breathe, trust, let go and see what happens." And so today I am off again on another mountain hike, all in preparation for some big climbs this summer. I will confess right up front that I'm not sure I'm up to this. We'll see. But for now, it's onward and upward.
P.S. I've always enjoyed the performing arts. I think the soliloquy in Hamlet that begins "O, my offense is rank" surpasses that of "To be, or not to be." But the works of Shakespeare that I find most compelling are his sonnets, which I read with great delight last night. Suddenly one of Elizabeth Barrett Browning's poems darted into my consciousness. Everyone knows the first line: "How do I love thee? Let me count the ways." But few know the rest.
No greater poem about love was ever written, unless it be Paul's ode to love in 1 Corinthians 13. Browning captures the essence of true love, which continues unabated even after death.
Yes, my dearest Becky Lynn, I love thee with the breath, smiles, tears of all my life. For being so real, so courageous, so honest, I thank you. In your life and death I saw how God can penetrate our deepest struggles. I have chased the sun but found no strength until I turned and faced the darkness. You helped me to see the other side of tragedy. You will never know just what you meant to me. My chest is tight and my eyes full as I think about the gift you have given me. I think that is called love.
Tuesday, January 12
12:05 PM I tell people there are two cultures in the U.S.: the "fit"culture and the "unfit" culture. This is why I usually have to drive an hour and a half to run a 5K. Men's Health Magazine has just published their study of the best cities in America for men who want to be fit. Can you guess the winner? It didn't surprise me at all. Thank God for this health-minded city!
10:54 AM Praise God! Just finished writing my chapter on grief. It now goes to my assistant for proofing. Honestly, I don't think I can look at that chapter again. It's just too emotionally draining. I think I spent as much time talking about Becky as I did talking about myself. Everyone who knew Becky knew just how unique a person God made her. All of us were challenged by her life and sacrificial lifestyle. When she passed away I stepped out into a whole new world. I could neither avoid it nor escape it. Something incomprehensible happened to me that will remain in my psyche forever. My experience is not unique, however. I hope and pray that you will never have to lose your spouse at a young age, but if you do, I dedicate this chapter to you. Grace is available to you just as it has been to me. Bec was a weathered but beautiful tree. Her life pointed to that other and greater reality that each of us will experience eventually. I still miss her very much, as do many of you. But she died a noble death that was a testimony to a life well lived. I feel honored beyond words to have known her.
Monday, January 11
1:38 PM About 20 miles west of South Boston, VA, is the town of Ringgold. There you'll find one of southern Virginia's most enjoyable day hikes. The site is called The Richmond and Danville Trail. It's an out and back and you can go as far as you want. Today I hiked 7.27 miles along a well-maintained path that was the former rail bed for one of the most important transportation corridors of the Confederacy.
During the American Civil War soldiers were transported to the front along this line, and at the end of the war Jefferson Davis used this railroad when he retreated from Richmond. To get there you take Hwy. 58 west from South Boston before turning right (north) on Ringgold Road. Travel about 3 miles and you'll see a road called Ringgold Depot Road. Turn left, and a half mile later you'll see this abandoned railway station and red caboose.
This is where the trail starts, although you wouldn't know it because there is absolutely no signage indicating you have reached your destination.
The trail takes you through some of the finest countryside in all of Virginia. ATVs are strictly prohibited, so bring your bikes and horses and make it a day trip.
After about a mile you'll come across this delightful sign.
Turn right and the road will take you to a small farmhouse and several outbuildings, including this one.
I'm told its owner donated his property to the state so that visitors could see what an old farmstead looked like. Of course, this is nothing new to me as most of the houses where I live not only resemble old homesteads but are old homesteads. All in all, the trail is nice and easy. I took it today because I want to get to the point where I can walk 6-7 miles on a regular basis without breaking into a sweat. Before my hike I did my weight training at the Y. As you can see, I'm concentrating on upper body strength.
If I do get back to Switzerland this summer to hike the Alps, I need to plan on doing some rock scrambling. Right now it's back to writing for me. I'm asking the Lord that He would allow me to finish my chapter on grief today. One part of me simply wants to walk away from the whole experience of losing Becky. But another part of me says that I will never return to normalcy without turning my experience of suffering into something positive. No one of us ever suffers loss in the abstract. Loss is an experience and not merely a concept. If writing this chapter brings help to others who are going through something similar to what I've experienced, then I guess it will have been worth it. Anyway, prayers appreciated. Thank you!
7:32 AM "When did you start running 5Ks?" a reported asked me yesterday at the race in Raleigh. I never have a good answer to that question. What exactly was going on in my mind last March when I ran in my first 5K? How do I begin to describe the predicament my soul was in at the time? 63: an age for change?
I can only say this. My running was simply a response to self-discovery, the realization that a person can function adequately while using only 10 percent of their potential. My daily routine involved only a very small percentage of my capabilities. Change was long overdue in this area of my life.
"But why do you run?" I run because I adhere to the philosophy of running: to function as you are supposed to function, and to achieve your personal best. If not grown wiser, I have at least come to understand how important exercise is. I am a member of a "gang," if you will, a gaggle of men and women who have set out to discover what they are capable of doing. Running puts life and death in perspective. It is not necessarily the achievement but the unremitting effort to achieve that marks the successful life. Thus I am well-satisfied with the results from yesterday's race. Here I am crossing the finish line.
And here are the race stats:
There were 247 timed participants (actually, many more people ran or walked in the race but many did so without wanting to be timed). Their average pace was 9:57/mile. Their average time was 30:51. My chip time was 32:43, and my pace was 10:33/mile.
Obviously, that makes me less-than-average. And I love it. In everything I do, I try to work to the best of my ability. But we can never be reminded too much of what is really important. The pursuit of excellence never ends. I do everything an Olympic runner does. I train. I enter races. I experience the same fatigue and pain. I too have days when I wonder, "It this really worth it?" I am not perturbed that my body can't perform at a faster pace. At a 5K race, I see humanity at its physical best. Each one of us can say, "I am giving it my best." The fastest male finished the race in 17.45. The slowest male finished in 53.15. I bet that neither was upset at their results. Each was trying to get the most out of their bodies. As I told someone yesterday, "I am trying to be the best possible Dave Black. Win or lose, that is the only trophy I want or hope for."
We are here -- you and I -- to be the best at whatever it is that God created us to be. For me, running puts that truth into focus. The prize is of little consequence. A race is run and soon forgotten. The memorable thing is not to excel against others but to excel against yourself.
I wish all of you the best as you run your race today, to the glory of God.
Sunday, January 10
6:28 PM Today's event in 1 minute.
5:22 PM Today I ran a 5K in Raleigh in very comfortable fall weather (the temp was 65 degrees).
It was hosted by Christ Church across the street from the State Capital Building.
According to the event website:
A worthy cause indeed. There were about 300 runners in today's race.
I failed to break the 30 minute barrier but I gave it my all and that's good enough for me. Here's my friend Jim.
I think I've seen him at every 5K event I've participated in. The man is a running machine. Today he got second place honors. That's quite an accomplishment when you consider all the young talent we older guys are up against. Congrats, Jim! See you soon at another event!
9:04 AM Jonathan Bernier has an excellent post about the date of Hebrews. As for the author?
This is the consensus opinio, and Jonathan summarizes it well. Of course, this "affirmed" interpretation of history is based almost exclusively on the internal evidence -- and thus is fatally flawed when one takes into account the writings of the earliest Christian fathers. Regrettably, any theory of New Testament interpretation, once it is established, becomes nearly impossible to dislodge, even if new (and seemingly contradictory) evidence is produced. Any interpretation of the events, if it is to be accepted, must be built around the old consensus and incorporated into it, even at the expense of logic. Thankfully, the old consensus is beginning to break down. See, for example, Andrew Pitts and Joshua Walker, "The Authorship of Hebrews: A Further Development in the Luke-Paul Relationship" (Paul and His Social Relations, eds. Stanley E. Porter and Christopher D. Land [Leiden: Brill, 2013] 143-84) for a defense of the view that Hebrews constitutes authentic Pauline speech material that was recorded and later published by Luke.
Saturday, January 9
4:44 PM Yet another surprise from the American Civil War: The connection between Gettysburg and Yellowstone National Park.
4:36 PM How many states have you been in?
Only Alaska has eluded my travel bug.
12:25 PM Here's my first GoPro video. What fun.
11:24 AM My sixth hike is now history. Only 46 more to go. I did 5.2 miles at the Tobacco Heritage Trail. The place was as empty as my stomach.
While walking I talked, sang, prayed, and even preached a sermon. All in German, too. After all, "Use it or lose it" applies as much to German as to any other language. So if I don't have anyone else to speak German with, I guess Mr. Ego will just have to talk with Mr. Id. I think you would have liked my sermon. I entitled it, "Das wichstigste Gespräch." I began as follows: "Als Menchen, kommen wir jeden Tag ins Gespräch mit anderen Menschen. Aber, was ist eigentlich das wichstigste Gespräch? Das Gespräch mit Gott." Really, it was an excellent homily. I enjoyed it immensely although I was a bit disappointed that the preacher failed to end the service with an altar call. Got home and filled my belly with this scrumptious home-cooked meal.
Today I'm working on a chapter for my new book called "Grief." Ugh. To say it's rough going would be an understatement. But it's got to get done, so gird up your loins, Dave, and have at it!
8:22 AM "We do not belong to those who have ideas only among books, when stimulated by books," wrote Nietzsche. "It is our habit to think outdoors -- walking, leaping, climbing, dancing, preferably on lonely mountains or near the sea where even the trails become thoughtful."
As you know, I've started a new social experiment this year: making at least 52 hikes in 2016. You know what, folks? It's not even going to be hard. God has given us a world to enjoy. And I want a front-row seat, if you know what I mean.
With that in mind, here's a "bucket list" of hikes I'd like to do in my lifetime. I wrote it last night between bouts of reading the Old Testament in Greek. I know I'm sounding like a real jerk here, but the outdoors is becoming to me what it was for old Fred N. -- a place to become thoughtful. At any rate, here's the list.
1) Hadrian's Wall Hike, England (Wallsend to Bowness-on-Solway). 84 miles, lasting 10-11 days.
2) Appalachian Trail (parts of it, that is). I've already got a head start on this one.
3) Grand Canyon Hike. 44 miles, lasting 3-4 days.
4) Yosemite Grand Traverse. 60 miles, lasting 6-7 days.
5) Old Rag Mountain in the Shenandoah. 9 miles, lasting 12 hours.
6) Matterhorn Circuit, Switzerland. 8 days.
7) Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks. Includes the famous Peek-a-Boo Trail.
8) Grand Teton Loop, Wyoming. 4 days.
9) Inca Trail. 26 miles, lasting 4 days. Includes Machu Picchu.
Do I really think I'll get to all of these places? No. But a man can dream!
Friday, January 8
6:14 PM Here's Psalm 1 in Hebrew recited by a former student in my LXX class. Well done, C.K.!
6:08 PM Tonight I'm reading Susanna in the LXX. The parallels with the Greek NT are noteworthy in terms of syntax. Plus the story is interesting!
I thought of Becky when I read these words:
4:22 PM Quote of the day (Paul Himes):
4:15 PM I never thought I'd write a tribute to Wordsworth but here I go. Wordsworth was perhaps the first person to conceive of walking as a poetic act, a way of communing with nature.
He used his legs in the service of philosophy. He discovered France on foot by walking over the Alps, using all of his walks as material for his poems. "Thus did I steel along that silent road/My body from the stillness drinking...." Walking is like that. Walking always presupposes a purpose (as opposed to mere wandering). The mechanism here is one of pure pleasure. I noticed that people walked a lot in Ethiopia, but their purpose was utilitarian. But Wordsworth took to the road like an aesthete, for pleasure and not because of necessity. When Bec and I lived in Switzerland, we walked everywhere. Who needs the tram or the train when one can stroll into town along 13th-century cobblestones? "Lord, that I might be/Small pebble, big stone or dust/On the Pandharpur road/To be trampled by the feet of saints!" Some people pray while walking. I do. Walking thus becomes an act of inexhaustible joy and consolation. Every truly magnificent landscape fills the person who has conquered it with energy and passion. I am a homo viator, a walking man, walking to find in myself the first man and the Last Adam, preparing myself for my celestial destiny.
3:55 PM Jacob Cerone has just posted an outstanding video illustrating the importance of doing structural analysis of a paragraph based on the Greek text. Go here to play it. (And can't we all agree that exegesis, to be exegesis, really ought to be done from the Greek text?)
11:48 AM Somebody please hit me with the stupid stick. I spent all morning on the phone with Gateway technical support troubleshooting the lack of audio from my desktop speakers only to find out that the mute button had been pressed in my YouTube channel. How that I happened I have no idea. Computers! Love 'em and hate 'em!
Thursday, January 7
6:14 PM Who's got time to empty the trash when one's writing juices are flowing?
6:02 PM Love this T. S. Elliot quote: "Old men ought to be explorers." And why shouldn't we? We live longer now. As with the prospectors in the Gold Rush days, courage comes with looking ahead and dreaming big. I can tell you from personal experience that it's possible to endure loneliness when there is a vision of glory ahead. I want to participate in the as-yet unseen. The future is not a problem to be solved but a hazard to be overcome.
9:32 AM I'm not the most introspective guy on the planet, but occasionally I ask myself, "Why do you enjoy climbing so much?" British climber George Mallory, who was one of the first men to climb Mount Everest, famously answered the "Why Mount Everest?" question with a simple, "Because it's there." For me, climbing is both physically and mentally challenging. To climb a mountain is mostly about the willingness to experience physical discomfort to reach a goal. The idea of finding my personal limits -- testing myself -- appeals to me. I discovered long ago that I don't have any running ability. 5Ks are just plain hard work for me. But my body is well-suited for walking. And so, like most people, I do what I enjoy doing. And then I blog about it. Not that it matters in the least. People look at my pictures and then quickly forget them. The memories all fade away. But from an emotional perspective, climbing adds immeasurable richness to my life. Standing on the top of a mountain (whether the mountain is high or not) is only part of the story. Climbing is more than a single moment. It's about getting to the top and then back down again -- safely. It's about the obstacles overcome, the heart for the natural world, and the feeling of deep satisfaction from the accomplishment. Individual climbs are soon forgotten. The world won't stop spinning because I climbed a mountain. No one really cares. Still, it's part of my story. And, of course, my temperament is such that I enjoy sharing my story with others. I have, really, two stories to tell. One is about climbing. The other is a story about what I'm learning about my Creator -- and about myself. A love story, if you will. The story of how I've survived the storms of life. I'm sorry to drag you along for the ride. But that's the way I'm wired. I write simply and from the heart. That's what's really important to me. It's not how high you go but who you become along the way.
P.S. Despite having had such a wonderful day yesterday, I was very lonely for Becky last night. I prayed a prayer that I had never prayed before. I said, "Lord, if possible, would You please say hi to Becky for me?"
Do you think He did?
Wednesday, January 6
5:16 PM My fifth hike of the year is now in the bag. Hanging Rock State Park was a mere two-hour drive from the farm. It's near the Virginia border in Stokes County, North Carolina. I wanted to climb both Hanging Rock and Moore's Knob but only had time to do the latter. Moore's Knob rises 2,500 feet above the surrounding countryside and has a phenomenal observation tower at its summit. But first you have to get there. The trail is rated "strenuous" and I take no issue with that assessment. As you can see, my pace was only 22 minutes per mile. And that was going full out.
To begin your hike be sure to stop by the visitor's center and get a trail map. There are 18 miles of trails in the park and this one in particular has a significant elevation gain. I knew the climb would be challenging so I drove to the park yesterday afternoon and stayed in a nearby bed and breakfast called Chateau Fontaine.
Talk about fancy!
The hosts were incredibly nice people -- and lovers of Jesus too! Susan, the hostess with the mostest, cooked an incredible breakfast for me this morning.
When I saw it I said, "There's no way I can eat all of that!" A few minutes later, the food on my plate had mysteriously disappeared. I'm glad it did, too, because I needed every single calorie for what lay ahead of me. If you're ever in the area I am happy to recommend to you Chateau Fontaine. Peaceful, quiet, secluded, reasonably priced, and it even has Arabian horses -- how great is that? Here's their website.
As I said, I began my hike at the visitor's center and walked just under 7 miles total. Once you pass the lake you come to the trail head, where you can either go clockwise (the easier way) or counterclockwise (which is more difficult).
Most people go the clockwise route but I chose to go in the other direction, not only because I'm a contrarian by nature but because I wanted the workout. After a stream crossing, the trail steeply heads up to Moore's Knob along a series of rock steps.
The steps seemed never-ending. Once you've come to a flat spot you'd round a bend and there they were -- another series of steps. Today I wasn't so much interested in a fast time as I was hoping to improve something I've really been working on: my stamina. I thus found myself forcing my legs and lungs to work in tandem -- step, breathe, step, breathe. Level area. Then more steps. Step, breathe, step breathe. I'm not saying this to complain. In fact, reaching the end is well worth the effort. At the summit (as I noted) you'll find an observation tower that allows a 360 degree panorama of the gorgeous Piedmont region of North Carolina and Virginia.
This YouTube video will give you an idea of what I'm talking about.
I spent about 5 minutes at the top and then began to descend to the parking lot. On the descent I saw the only people I encountered all day -- a young couple and their sweet puppy. We exchanged pleasantries and they were kind enough to take my pic.
You'll notice that I've started to carry a backpack. I want to begin adding more and more weight to it. Today it weighed only 25 pounds but eventually I want to increase that to 45. When I finally arrived at the visitor center, I took a few minutes to stroll through its nature museum, where I encountered this coyote and black bear cub.
Again, I reflected on the beauty of God's creation and, in fact, while hiking I couldn't help but praise God vocally for who He is and for the wonderful world He allows us to live in. When I got back into my car I felt an overwhelming sense of peace and joy. "Thank you, God, for giving me the strength I needed to do this hike." Hiking is about finding the strength needed to do the right thing when you face life's difficulties. Many people in the Bible have had their own "mountain top" experiences. As I climbed today, I listened to the sound of sheer silence and heard the still small voice of God. I gave thanks to the Lord of all creation and drove home a happy man.
Tuesday, January 5
11:36 AM Did the Plantation Trail this morning at Occoneechee State Park. It was exactly 4 miles. Fourth hike down -- only 48 to go. This morning was a bit on the cool side. When I started my hike the temp was 21 degrees. The good thing is that the coldness really keeps you moving.
Monday, January 4
1:45 PM Perfect day for writing.
And for reading this book that came today.
12:42 PM How's your weather? It's snowing here. Earlier I jogged 5 miles and then ran numerous errands in South Boston. I got really hungry but I'm proud of myself for driving right past the MacDonald's so I could enjoy of bowl of vegetable soup and a tuna sandwich when I got home. After all, I did promise myself I was done with fast food.
Back to the book!
8:14 AM I'll call this post "Looking back and looking forward." You might say 2015 was the second most difficult year of my life. But when we're faced with insurmountable odds in our lives, we're always one short step away from the purpose God has for our lives. The supreme challenge for anyone who experiences a major loss is learning to accept the pain and sorrow on the one hand and learning to live with renewed vitality on the other. The important thing to remember is how the kingdom of heaven works -- its operative principle is life out of death. I live in a wilderness called loneliness, but through the mist of my tears I see the rainbow. "Grief is not forever" I tell myself, because it's true. One day there will be a morning without it. 2015 was a year to grasp Truth with both hands and say "yes" to God and lay everything I hold dear down in the dust. I know that God's love never gives us anything less than the best.
I also learned to love all of God's outdoors, to see in creation the overwhelming presence of His power and the lavishness of His gifts. The "path of obedience" means for me exercise and fitness as it never did before. In the great outdoors one is terribly vulnerable. But the journey is not complete until we have persevered to the end of the trail. In nature, I am reminded that there is a loving purpose behind everything in my life, a great tenderness even in the fierceness.
In 2016 I have set before myself many goals. I want to worry less about attaining God's plan for my life and just work on today. I want to kick up my heels and enjoy my grandkids. I want to "make the most of every opportunity" (Col. 4:5). Like Helen Keller, "I long to accomplish great and noble tasks, but it is my chief duty to accomplish small tasks as if they were great and noble." And like Jabez of old, I desire bigger challenges and more opportunity. I'm going to thumb my nose at the skeptics around me who say "It can't be done." I will try hard to never split an infinitive or use, commas, which aren't necessary. I will do extravagant things like feed my dogs a cookie or lie flat on my back and watch the clouds go by or climb a tall mountain or laugh out loud. And when I look back and remember Becky, I will thank God for the grace He made available to me, disguised though it was by sorrow and pain. I will thank Him for the material blessings He has given me and bless others with them. In 2016, my story will continue to unfold, as will yours. I have a sense that God has so much more He wants to do in my life, and that the story will be a good one. Memories still flood my mind, but they are mostly happy ones. Life is a pure gift to me. I want to live it to the hilt.
Sunday, January 3
10:10 AM Just ordered a new pair of running shoes. My old ones seem to have lost their support and shock absorption capacity. They lasted exactly 311 miles -- which, I'm told, is not too bad (most running shoes last between 300-400 miles). My new shoes will match my old shoes identically. They're called New Balance 860s. Using them is like walking on air. I've also ordered my hiking boots. They are Timberland Mt. Maddsen's. I hope it was a good decision. Actually, it was the only midsized waterproof boot that came in my size. Obviously, having shoes that fit is very important. And when you've found your perfect pair, there's nothing like it in the world. If you can also get them in a color you like, so much the better!
Saturday, January 2
12:22 PM I'm finally caught up on emails. It is a happy new year indeed! Earlier I completed my third hike of the year. That makes only 49 to go.
I hiked a section of the Tobacco Trail. It was an easy 5.2 mile in and out. This dead tree has seen better days.
And I noticed a picnic area about 2 miles into the trail. Neat.
Here's the turnaround point. Actually, you can keep on walking down to the Dan River, which I have done several times, but today the ground was just too muddy.
My SD card for my new GoPro arrived, which means it's high time I took the bugger out of its box and started figuring out how it works. Thankfully, there's a YouTube today on every subject imaginable.
8:42 AM Driving home yesterday I decided to go through Charlotte County, VA, where the Amish began settling around 1997. I encountered several Amish buggies along the route.
I don't know about you, but whenever I pass a buggy I slow way down so as not to spook the horse. I also roll down my window so that I can hear the "clippety clop" of the horse's hoofs. Love that sound. I really worry for their safety, though. Hwy 47 is a very busy road and has only two lanes. Logging trucks are everywhere.
In other news ...
It was 26 degrees when I woke up this morning and my body rebelled against the notion of an hour and a half drive to Cary. Instead, I'm sitting here at the computer banging away at the keyboard. The sun is now shining brightly and I do hope to get outdoors for a nice long walk later on in the day. If I can break away from the farm this week, I plan to hike both Moore's Knob and Hanging Rock. The Moore's trail is about 4.3 miles long and it has an observation tower at the top that gives you a 360 degree view. The Hanging Rock Trail is much shorter and, I'm told, also has some lovely views from the summit. As you can see, I'm taking baby steps to become a mountaineer -- Moore's Knob is only 2,566 feet; it ranks as only the 1,909th highest mountain in North Carolina and the 39,701th highest mountain the United States. However, I do have my sights set squarely on hiking Mount Mitchell, the highest point in North Carolina at 6,683 feet. The Mount Mitchell Trail is an 11.4 mile out and back near Burnsville, NC. It has the reputation of being the most difficult contiguous trail of its length in North Carolina. Most people can make the summit in 4-5 hours, which is not bad when you consider that there's a 3,600 feet elevation gain. First I need to get a good pair of hiking books and break them in. I also hope to arrange a ride back from the summit since the way down is worse than the climb. (Yes, one can also drive to the summit.) Very tough trail and will definitely be a challenge!
Believe it or not, I'm anxious for the semester to begin. The LXX class should be gobs of fun. We'll also begin our exegesis of Philippians in my Greek 2 sections. Many of our pastors couldn't use their Greek if their life depended on it. I fear much of the trouble goes back to the selection and training of elders. Many are not suitable for pastoral leadership. Some are utterly devoid of leadership gifts. And they often lack competence in the languages. In many of our schools academic training is discounted in comparison with practical training. This is frankly disastrous. So is the absence of grappling with ecclesiology. The essence of the Christian Gospel is that it must be rooted in biblical truth. Any theology that does not do this is doomed to irrelevance.
Anyway, sorry for the rambling. Have a good day and be safe if you're traveling!
Friday, January 1
5:12 PM When I woke up this morning I knew had to get outdoors and get in a long hike today, anywhere between 6 and 7 miles. But where to go? I remember hearing about a hiking trail not too far from me. So I hopped in the van and drove 75 miles to the Appomattox Court House National Historical Park. Being New Year's Day, the park was closed, but I wasn't going there to see the McLean House anyway. There are two hikes you can take when you arrive at the park. One takes you through the historic village of Appomattox, while the other involves hiking trails that take you mostly through wooded areas. The trails do not link but I suppose you could combine them when the park is open. The southern end of the hiking trails starts at the North Carolina Monument, while the northern end starts at the Lee's Headquarters parking lot a few miles down the road on US 24. I chose the latter route for my hike today. The trail is what is called an "out and back." In other words, there's no loop involved. You walk there and back. The trail takes you along the Appomattox River, which at this point in its evolution is mostly a small rivulet. There are a few spurs on the trail as well, such as Sweeny's Prizery. Of course, every step you take you're reminded of the historic events that transpired beneath your very feet. Here's a photo exposé of my hike in case you're interested:
1) As I said, the trails are located on Route 24 just outside of the city of Appomattox, Virginia. But rather than turning left into the park you will look for either the North Carolina monument or Lee's Headquarters.
2) As you can see, when I arrived at the latter location I was the only car in the parking lot.
3) Here's the trail head. As always, the park service is on the ball and provides a detailed map of the trails.
4) Good thing too, because it's otherwise very easy to get lost along the way.
5) I would rate this trail as easy to moderate. Most of it involves undulating hills, but occasionally you'll have to climb a fairly steep rise, which is perfect if you're interested in cardio.
6) Sometimes your walk takes you along a very easy grass pathway -- almost a road, really.
7) And when you need to cross a creek, there are bridges to help you keep your shoes dry.
8) Here's the "mighty" Appomattox River. It's amazing to think that this small creek turns into a gigantic river when it reaches Petersburg.
9) One of the highlights of my hike today was this nature trail portion of the park.
10) For those of us who are botanically challenged, there are about 40 different species of trees identified, including this black locust...
11) ... and this pignut hickory.
12) I think this hike would make an excellent outing for homeschooling groups. Very educational!
13) I mentioned earlier the Sweeny Prizery. Built in the early 1700s by Alexander Sweeny, this building once served as a tobacco packing house.
14) Don't get your feet wet!
15) The trail is a little convoluted in places. Thankfully, just when you think you've lost your way, you come across a sign giving you much-needed directions.
16) History is everywhere you look.
17) Remember Custer?
18) Can you imagine what was going through General Grant's mind at this very spot 150 years ago?
19) Eventually the trail opens up on a large hay field, which means you're almost to the North Carolina Monument.
20) At this point, you can either return the same way you came, or else you can hike a couple of miles along the shoulder of Route 24 back to the parking lot where you left your car. I make it a practice never to hike back the same way I came. It's just the way I'm wired. Thankfully, there wasn't a whole lot of traffic today and I only had to step on the grass a few times.
21) As soon as I returned to my car I checked my Map My Run app and noticed that I had gone exactly 7 miles. The entire hike took just under two hours for me to complete. I pushed myself, but not too hard as the trail was slippery and I'm afraid of falling.
Thus completes my second (of 52) trail hikes of the year. (Yes, I know I cheated by starting yesterday.) I had lots of fun and got some great exercise in the process. The day was cold but beautiful. I especially enjoyed matching names with trees along the nature trail. I don't mind hiking by myself. Of course, I have nothing against hiking with other people, but hiking alone allows me to maintain my own pace. I'm afraid that if I hike with a partner I will either outpace him or, conversely, lag behind and force him to slow down to my pace. My goals in hiking have always been twofold: To enjoy the beauty of God's creation, and to get in a good cardio workout. It's like when I used to ride my horses. I never walked my steeds. We always trotted or cantered. Occasionally, especially when there was a hill in front of us, we would break out into a full gallop. Horses need to be "aired out" when they are taken for a ride. And believe me, I got tired long before my horses did. I could never just do a normal "trail ride" where people walk their horses for a few miles. Of course, my days of galloping are long over. As I tell people, "I'm not too old to ride; I'm too old to fall."
As I was walking today I ran across only one other group who was hiking. I saw about 5 or 6 seasoned citizens. They looked like they belonged to a hiking club. We greeted each cheerfully, and then went on our merry ways. Whether you are 20 or 40 or 60, whether you are male or female, hiking is hiking is hiking. It's a pretty cool fraternity.
After my hike I was famished. After all, I had just burned 1,000 calories. I stopped at the local Mexican restaurant in the city of Appomattox and pigged out on a chili relleno and a cheese enchilada. Food never tasted better.
I spoke Spanish (or, Spanglish) the whole time I was there. When leaving, I'm sure glad I remembered to wish my server a "Prospero año nuevo." (The "ñ" in año is extremely important, by the way!) And I wish you the same:
Happy New Year!
9:28 AM So how to live the New Year? Totally committed to the Good News of Jesus. Being the aroma of Christ (2 Cor. 2:15). (Warning: like any aroma, smell can either attract or repel.) Being ready to serve others to the utmost. Being willing to allow death to work in us provided it means life to others (2 Cor. 4:12). Praying for people in need. ("You also burrow underneath by prayer for us," writes Paul in 2 Cor. 1:11). Daily putting the proud self where it belongs -- on the cross of our lives. Living our lives as vital limbs in the body of Christ along with others. Coveting the Lord's mind on everything in our lives. Giving our wealth away. (The ancient Romans used to say: Money is like sea water; the more you have of it, the thirstier you become.) Allowing our suffering to become a means of drawing on the risen strength of our Lord. Approaching old age and infirmity with equanimity and confidence.
My prayer for the New Year:
"Father, thank you for this beautiful world You've made. Thank you for letting me live another year in it. Thank you for a body that's able to walk and run, and thank you for the drive you've given me to make this happen. Creator God, all of us age. What we pray is that we may remain vital and creative as long as we last. I am old clay, but I can still be reshaped. Show me, this year, what new purposes You have for me. I want to be challenged, to have something useful to do. Give me the grace to be myself, the self You created. May I show my gratitude to You by the way I bless my children and grandchildren, freeing them to become their own special persons. For all of my "adopted" children, whom I love dearly, I will always be grateful. Help me to release the child in me that is full of spontaneity and fun. Give me the grace to say goodbye to those I love when they are taken from me. Help me to be like the widow who gave everything for the kingdom. Please help me to remember the joy and not the pain. Help me to sing Your song in whatever situation I find myself this year. Help me to find the balance between being active and resting. Help me not to cling to outmoded habits. Allow me to make the last years the best years of my life. When I need to talk things over with someone, guide me to that person. Help me to walk by faith and not by sight. "Lord, teach me to pray." For the laughter of my grandchildren, I will always be thankful. Source of all joy, may there always be laughter in my life. Light of all seeing, help me to "see" others as they really are. Strength of all strength, grant me the inner strength and courage that only You can give. Most of all, help me to remain faithful until life's end. Amen.